Texas law allows for a probation requirement whereby DWI offenders must have an Ignition Interlock Device installed on their cars. Travis County judges will also require it as a condition of pretrial release in certain cases (i.e. repeat offenders, egregious offenses, or especially youthful suspects). Several companies sell products which affix to the person's ignition and prevent them from driving. Amazingly, one such provider, Smart Start, has marketed their products to defense attorneys in what I can only guess is an attempt to get us to suggest their product over others.
Two things happened today which give me pause (above and beyond recommending a company that has the potential to put my clients back in the pokey):
1) We have a client who is alleged to have violated the terms of his probation by submitting breath samples with alcohol in them while trying to operate his vehicle. He noted that he received a different message from the machine than what is normally received for a failure. Trying to clear this up, I gave Smart Start a call and expected them to at least generally discuss the machine and it's operation, since I am, at least potentially, in a position to send them business. The local employee I spoke with said that their position was that they would not share any information about the product with the client or the client's lawyer. In short, he concluded, "Sir, I'm not telling you anything." Fair enough, but tell your Marketing folks to stop blowing smoke up my ass, OK? Besides, your stonewalling notwithstanding, a subpoena should produce the information we're looking for.
2) While I searched for technical and operational information about their products online, I stumbled across something that I found a little disturbing and a lot misleading on their homepage. At the bottom of the page, the have some text which claims "DWI is the nations [sic] most frequently committed violent crime" (you may have to Reload a few times to see the same banner). It's certainly a noble goal to prevent drunk drivers from re-offending, and I can honestly say that the alternative to an ignition interlock device is ridiculously cost-prohibitive for most people convicted of a DWI, so I do give IID companies credit for helping to allow my clients to drive so that they can keep their jobs.
But calling DWI a violent crime is ridiculous (those are all law enforcement sources, BTW). DWI is completely outside the common understanding of what a violent crime is. A "violent crime" is one where one person threatens or does violence to another (think murder, rape, aggravated assault, child abuse, robbery, assault, etc.) Yes, some people who are DWI kill or injure innocent victims. But not everyone who commits a DWI (or who is arrested for DWI) fits that description. This is the same as saying "Speeding is a violent crime", "Weaving in a lane of traffic is a violent crime", or, as happened to a client who came in today, "Stopping to aid another motorist who got into an unrelated accident is a violent crime." It's dishonest, even if it's well-intentioned.
More proof that words do (should?) matter.
UPDATE: The US Supreme Court agrees with me. In the context of defining "crimes of violence" under the Immigration Code, a DWI does not belong. So says Leocal v. Ashcroft. Take that Smart Start webmaster!!!!