Daniel Hynes

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Public shaming to prevent drunk driving

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Is Public Shaming an Effective Method of Preventing Crime?

In the state of New Hampshire and across the country, police agencies have recently started to implement a new initiative to prevent crime: public shaming. In New Hampshire, those who are most commonly targeted for public shaming include defendants who have been convicted of DWIs, theft, and soliciting prostitutes.

It is the hope of law enforcement agencies that public shaming techniques will be effective in lowering the current crime rates, particularly with regards to DWIs and soliciting prostitutes. A nationwide survey of more than 200 different police departments discovered that most police officers believe that the most effective method of curbing prostitution is to target the actual customer. The most effective method of targeting a customer is through their fear of being exposed. The first question a person arrested for soliciting prostitution usually asks is “Will my coworkers find out?” or “Is my wife going to find out?”

In a similar fashion, many New Hampshire residents who arrested for DWI are middle and upper class business professionals who tend to be concerned with maintaining appearances. While the general shame associated with a DWI is not as the amount associated with a prostitution related charge, police offers hope, that by publicly naming those convicted of a DWI, it will serve as an example to the rest of the community.

How Public Shaming Works

Police agencies across different states have employed a number of different techniques for public shaming. For example, in Fresno, California, police officers run and maintain a website, named “Operation Reveal”, which features the mug shots of males suspected of being johns. Along a highway in Arlington, Texas, there is an oversized billboard that prominently features the mug shots of four different suspects. Emblazoned across the front of the billboard in bold print is the phrase “This could be you.” In other cities across the country, police officers have elected to send letters to the homes of automobile owners observed cruising the streets searching for prostitutes. Still other cities have actively encouraged their citizens to attend court hearings for prostitution cases.

The issue of public shaming has come to the forefront of the public conscious within the last year, primarily due to the Kennebunk, Maine prostitution scandal in which a popular Zumba instructor has been accused of running a prostitution ring from inside her well-known studio. To date, the local police force has released the names and mug shots of more than 100 prostitution clients implemented in the scandal.

When it comes to DWIs, an increasing number of judges are electing to force defendants convicted of driving while intoxicated to wear signs proclaiming their crimes and walk along or near the scene of their arrest. Their hope is, in a manner similar to prostitution, motorists will think twice before drinking and driving if they know that everyone will eventually find out about it.

The Case of Michael Giacona

In 2013, a Houston, Texas man was convicted of a DWI after killing another motorist in an alcohol related collision. As a part of his sentence, he was required to wear a sign, crafted by the victim’s mother, as a part of his sentence. The defendant was made to wear the sign over four consecutive Saturdays at the site of the original accident. His sign read: “I Killed Aaron Coy Pennywell While Driving Drunk.”

This requirement was just one element of the two year probated sentence the defendant received. Michael Giacona, the defendant, was convicted of his second DWI, and after serving just 90 days of a one year jail sentence, Giacona was set free on “shock probation”, which is a program created by Texas law enforcement officials for DWI offenders who are deemed worthy candidates for rehabilitation.

The presiding judge, who expressed surprise and concern for Giacona’s inclusion in the shock probation program, added multiple other sentencing requirements, in addition to wearing the sign, to his probation terms. These terms included the use of a ScramX alcohol monitoring bracelet.

Many have argued that Giacona’s sentence was too light for the crime he committed, but it does raise an interesting question: Does the shaming of a DWI offender, a repeat offender in this case, effectively work to curb driving while intoxicated?

Criticisms of Public Shaming

Those who oppose the use of public shaming are quick to point out several flaws in this type of punishment. First and foremost, public shaming affects more people than just the individual who committed the crime. Potentially, the defendant’s family members, including small children, could be subjected to harsh treatment by coworkers, peers, and acquaintances for something in which they had no control. Secondly, public shaming programs are frequently used with suspects only – as opposed to those who have been convicted of an actual crime. A mere accusation can quickly ruin a person’s life, and even a not guilty verdict a later date may not suffice to wholly remove the stigma of a defendant having their face plastered across a billboard or published on a popular website.

To date, there is not any empirical evidence that proves public shaming is an effective method of trying to prevent DWIs or other types of crime; however, there are multiple studies currently underway. Of course, this has not stopped law enforcement agencies from across the state and the country from trying it out. Until conclusive evidence demonstrates otherwise, it seems as though public shaming will be used by an increasing number of police departments, including agencies within New Hampshire.

New Hampshire DWI Lawyers

As of yet, it is still undetermined if the authorities in our state will seek to reduce DWI rates in New Hampshire with public shaming tactics. However, it is not unlikely that those convicted of DWI will, in the future, have to contend with these shaming punishments. This just serves as yet another reminder of why those accused of such crimes need to have a fierce and skilled advocate working on their behalf. This is where our experienced New Hampshire DWI lawyers can step in to offer their assistance.

For a free consultation regarding your case, please contact our law firm today. Because time is so important in such cases, don’t delay.


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