The Big Business of DWI

After ten years of being a prosecutor, seeing the "other side" has been an eye opener to say the least. One obvious fact is this: DWI is a cash cow for the government.

Take for example, the driver's license suspension procedure. A few years ago, the brain trust in Austin (no doubt led around by the nose by MADD) passed legislation to create the Administrative License Revocation procedure. It works like this: Billy Bob gets arrested for DWI and is taken to the friendly confines of the Wise County Jail. Once there, he is read a convoluted warning by the arresting officer which, when cut to its core, means this:

"Your lawmakers, who may very well get drunk at the country club all the time, are scared to death of the political clout held by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Therefore, I'm required to read you this warning about some laws that MADD ramrodded through Austin.  Here they are. If you don't blow into our fancy Intoxilyzer machine, then the government will suspend your license for 90 days. If you blow into our fancy machine and produce a result of .08 or more, we'll suspend your license for 60 days.  Thank you for being a Texan. God bless and Peace Out."
As a side note, there is a way to keep this suspension from being automatic.  If you're smart enough to request it within 15 days, you'll at least get a hearing on the legitimacy of the license suspension. But the type of hearing you receive leaves a lot to be desired: It's on the fourth floor of an office building at the end of Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth. There will be a DPS prosecutor and an administrative judge sitting at a flat table in a small office. The system is so screwed up that DPS is allowed to prove that the defendant committed DWI by simply admitting into evidence the offense report prepared by the officer. (Anyone ever heard of the right to confront your accusers?).

It's a losing battle down there. Over 90% of the time the license will be suspended.

But what about the big business of DWI?

Once the suspension period is over, the driver must fill out an application form and, get this, pay a $100 reinstatement fee to DPS for the privilege of getting his license back that DPS took away from him.

$100 you say. Big whoop.

In 1997, however, there were 91,267 license suspensions because of DWI arrests in Texas. Do the math: DPS made over $9 million dollars in reinstatement fees alone.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are court costs, fines, probation fees, and fees to MADD ( which I really don't understand, but they received $1,640,000 in 1999). At a seminar I attended in Austin last month, a information sheet was passed out by attorney Chris Hoover of Plano that estimated that the State of Texas made $257,480,000 off of DWI in 1999.

That's big business.  And that can subconsciously provide an incentive for cops to stop you for DWI.

Barry Green served as District Attorney for Wise and Jack Counties from 1993 through 2000. He is now a partner in the Decatur law firm of Smith & Green, P.C.

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