On the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer, a single mom (we’ll call her Rosemary) made the biggest mistake of her life. A nurse at a local medical clinic, Rosemary had a few drinks and tried to drive home to tell her 17-year-old daughter the bad news about the cancer.
She was stopped by a police officer who noticed her drifting in her lane. After performing poorly on several field sobriety tests, she was arrested for DUI — driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor, a Class 1 misdemeanor.
As a result of her mistake, Rosemary, like most DUI defendants that appear in my court, entered into a plea agreement. The penalties were 30 days in jail, fines of $1,480, mandated counseling (which costs $407 on average), and a requirement to install an ignition interlock device in her car.
The interlock device prevents the driver from driving the car if any alcohol is in the breath of the driver. The cost of the device — mandatory for one year — averages $1,000.
By spending 30 days in jail, Rosemary will lose her job at the clinic, along with her health insurance which would have helped to pay for the upcoming breast cancer treatments.
Needless to say, Rosemary has learned a hard lesson regarding drinking and driving — one that she will never repeat.
The week before Rosemary appeared in my court to plead on the DUI charge, a 24-year-old female student (we’ll call her Sandra) pled to her second DUI charge. Sandra was all alone in the courtroom taking responsibility for her mistake. She was sentenced to four months in jail, over $3,000 in fines and over $8,000 in jail fees. When I informed her of the jail fees, she began to cry. It will be quite a few years before she can pay off this mistake.
These are two examples of nice people who made poor choices.
Rosemary was not aware of the seriousness of the penalties that she would be facing. The general public may also be uninformed as to the extent of what happens when one is found guilty of DUI in Arizona.
If you occasionally drink and drive, consider instead paying the $20 taxi fare before you are stopped for being impaired, even to the slightest degree, and find yourself sitting in Tent City and shelling out thousands of dollars.
The campaign to prevent drunk driving has been relatively successful as the number of fatalities due to drunk driving has dropped over the last 10 years. The public is generally aware of the catastrophic results when a drunk driver kills someone. This unspeakably painful event happened close to 400 times in Arizona last year.
However, another reason not to drink and drive is the strength of the penalties for those drivers taking a chance with alcohol in their system when they are arrested and charged with DUI.
Don’t make the same mistake that Rosemary and Sandra made. It is simply not worth it.
• Mark Anderson is a judge in West Mesa Justice Court.