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Drunk Drivers: Murders Essay, Research Paper

Drunk Drivers: Murderers on Wheels

At just a little past 10 p.m., 19-year-old Jason Sumpf, a philosophy student at the University of Connecticut who had more things that he wanted to achieve than he could in six lifetimes, was leaving a party at 43 South St. in Plymouth, Connecticut. While Jason rummaged through his pockets for the keys to his girlfriend s car, headlights flashed across his back. Even though Sumpf was a second-degree black belt in karate, his reflexes weren t fast enough to jump out of the way of the oncoming car. Jason Sumpf was pronounced dead at 5 p.m. the day following the accident. Larry Vaughan, a drunk driver, took away the future that could have been so bright for young Jason Sumpf ( Murder Charge for Drunk Drivers Who Kill is Becoming More Common, 1999). Drunk driving is a growing problem in today s society, which has led to nearly 50 percent of all traffic fatalities being alcohol-related. Various consequences come along with driving under the influence. However, the current penalties don t seem to discourage people from getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated. People who cause the death of another individual while drinking and driving should be charged with first degree murder because people in today s society have been well informed that drunk driving is illegal, because the existing consequences for driving drunk don t seem to discourage people from driving drunk, and because drunk drivers get behind the wheel of their own free will.

In today s society plenty of awareness opportunities exist; however, most prove to be ineffective in preventing drunk driving. Driving drunk is a reckless act that teens and adults are guilty of committing. The battle against drunk driving begins at an early age through the efforts of awareness groups. From the time that children enter elementary school, they are presented with drug and alcohol awareness campaigns. Programs such as D.A.R.E attempt to get across the message that substance abuse is not cool, no matter what anyone else says. For the most part children seem to be genuinely interested in the message that adults are trying to get across to them. In junior high and the early high school years, programs such as Students Taking A New Direction ( S.T.A.N.D.) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) continue to encourage students to fight the pressures of alcohol. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) members, scare tactics, personal testimonies, awareness weeks, as well as substance free functions are only a few of the ways in which responsible individuals attempt to influence others not to drive drunk (Watson, 1999). Although it is a sad but very true fact, most high school students can not just say no anymore. It seems that by the time a child has reached his junior or senior year of high school, drinking has become quite a normal activity, despite the dangers that come along with this act. Teens and adults alike have witnessed their families, friends, and peers perish in alcohol related accidents, yet have done little to change their own ways. According to Public Policy Statistics (1997), three in every five Americans will be involved in an alcohol related crash at some time in their lives, and with drunk driving increasing each year the odds are even greater. Unless an individual has been totally sheltered from society and the real world, he knows that drinking and driving is illegal, as well as a ticking time bomb for disaster. People are fully aware that their are consequences to drunk driving, however when they get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated they show a blatant disregard for their safety as well as the safety of others, not to mention they are aware they are performing an illegal act.

Although consequences for drunk driving have been established, they do not seem to prevent people from breaking the law. Each state determines its own laws regarding drunk driving; however, most procedures are very similar. A suspended license, costly fines, and some jail time are usually what await anyone who is caught drinking and driving. If an officer finds that an individual is legally intoxicated (usually a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) between 0.08 and 0.10), while operating a vehicle, then a DUI or DWI is issued. A first time offender can expect to pay a fine anywhere from $300 to $1,000, as well as have a mandatory suspension of his license. This suspension can last anywhere from one week to one year. In addition, he will be assigned community service or spend up to six months in jail ( Public Policy Statistics, 1999). However, most offenders don t learn the first time they are caught drinking and driving. If their license has been suspended, they simply drive without one. Usually a loophole is found, or the offenders go to court and the judge gives them a break on the fines and jail time. Although there are some judges who will enforce the maximum penalties allowed, there are still a vast number who do not. Today s penalties are not seen as much of a threat, instead, they are seen as more of a warning system. Convicted drunk drivers even admit that today s penalty system is not one that is taken very seriously. For instance, Marcella Swearengen, a 42-year-old resident of Oregon, had been convicted of drunk driving 11 times since 1989, yet it wasn t until 1995 that she was finally sentenced to jail time ( Drunk Drivers Are Violent Criminals and Should Be Treated As Such, 1999). Now, looking back, Marcella wishes that she had been sent to jail sooner. She believes that it would have caused her to stop driving drunk (M.Swearengen, personal communication, January 30,1999). Luckily she never killed anyone, but the same wasn t true for another repeat offender, Timothy Earl Blackwell. Blackwell hit a minivan, which killed 4-year-old Megan Dail in April of 1997. At the time of the accident, Blackwell s license had been permanently revoked as a result of numerous DWI convictions. Blackwell, a habitual drunk driver, was found guilty by a jury in Durham, North Carolina, of first-degree murder for killing young Megan ( Durham DA Seeks 1st-Degree Murder Charge in Fatal Wreck Case, 1999). Another case in which a drunk driver was charged with murder is that of Thomas Richard Jones. He is now serving life in prison after killing two Wake Forest University students ( Murder Charge for Drunk Drivers Who Kill is Becoming More Common,” 1999). However, prosecutors are quick to argue that filing murder charges for a drunk driving wreck is too costly a process and that there is always the burden of proof. On the other hand, if existing penalties do not discourage people from drinking and driving, then stiffer penalties must be enforced. The horrible reality of life in prison or possibly the death sentence might cause an individual to think twice before getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding first degree murder convictions for drunk drivers. Many people feel that drunk drivers do not meet the criteria that essentially defines what first-degree murder is. In order for a person to be found guilty of first degree murder the government must prove that a person killed another person; the person killed the other person with malice aforethought; and that the killing was premeditated. Killing with malice aforethought means to kill either deliberately and intentionally or recklessly with extreme disregard for human life. When a drunk driver gets behind the wheel, they are being extremely reckless. He does not consider the consequences for other motorists or pedestrians. By interpretation of the law, drunk drivers do meet the requirement of killing with malice aforethought. However, it is the premeditated part of the clause that is often controversial. A large number of people believe that a drunk driver does not consciously think about killing other people when she decides to drive. Although this may or may not be true, when a person gets behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated she does contemplate her actions and decides to commit a potentially fatal act.

People who drive drunk make that choice by their own free will. The minute a person gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, he has made a decision. Nobody forces a person to get behind the wheel and drive while he is intoxicated. Unfortunately, alcohol chemically effects the brain and a person s judgement, but a choice is a choice and every person is responsible for their own actions. That is why when consuming alcohol responsibility is imperative. If a person knows that he will be in a situation in which he will become intoxicated, then he should be responsible enough to plan ahead and make arrangements. People have been educated about alternatives to driving drunk and know that if they do not use the available alternatives they are endangering themselves as well as innocent bystanders. On the other side of things, there are occasions when a person might not know in advance that he would be drinking; however, there are always options as opposed to driving under the influence. The excuse of I couldn t find a designated driver is no longer a valid one. There are numerous options instead of drinking and driving. In every part of the country, there are organizations such as MADD, SADD, and other awareness groups that sponsor informational campaigns as well as designated driver programs. Cab companies are always ready to be a means of transportation for an intoxicated individual. However, if for some reason an alternative to drunk driving just doesn t seem available, one phone call to a local law enforcement office will bring an officer to the intoxicated person. Police officers would rather take a drunk individual home now then to be at the scene of an accident later. So, if an individual decides to ignore the law and his options, the consequences should be just as severe as the crime.

People who drink and drive clearly disregard the law as well as the lives of innocent people, and any deaths resulting from such reckless behavior must be treated as first degree murder. Although, there is a great deal of controversy that surrounds this subject, there is a clear movement to make drunk driving a felony. When an individual operates a vehicle while under the influence, that car is immediately transformed into a two-ton weapon of destruction. Any offender who chooses to engage in drunk driving is committing an act of violence no different from arbitrarily shooting a gun. This act should be punished with the same severity. Murder charges for drunk drivers who kill are still rare, but are becoming less so. There have been at least three recent charges in eastern North Carolina, which is making the nation stand at attention and take notice. Drunk driving is an inexcusable act that has been ignored for far too long. However, times are changing, and individuals who think that they are above the law will soon learn that their actions could have life-changing consequences.

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