One of the bedrock principles of American law is that the law shall apply equally from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Of course, different states can impose different penalties for the same crime, but within a single state, the law should be applied equally. A recent study by a Washington, D.C. television station has found a significant difference between jail sentences for drunk driving in two adjacent counties.
What the study found
The study focused on Route 210 as it passes between Prince George’s County and its neighboring counties. In Prince George’s County, drivers convicted of or who pleaded guilty were much more likely to be punished with a fine or probation, while those drivers found guilty of the same offense in nearby counties were more likely to be incarcerated.
The investigators obtained lists of individuals arrested by Prince George’s County police between January 2019 and August 2020 on Highway 210. The outcome of each case was then cross-checked with records from the Maryland court system. According to the investigators, the court records show that 75 people were arrested on Md. Hwy. 210 during the study period. Of the 75, only one was sentenced to jail time. The remaining cases resulted mostly in monetary fines for the defendant.
The investigators also obtained records of DUI arrests in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties in 2019. In the first sixty cases reviewed in Montgomery County, more than a third of the cases resulted in jail sentences for the drivers. In the first 12 cases from Anne Arundel County, approximately 50% of the drivers were required to serve jail time.
What do the results mean?
The most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the study is that DUI defendants can expect more lenient treatment from judges in Prince George’s County than in nearby counties. However, the study did not address the important question of why the discrepancies exist. Perhaps the investigators were unable to obtain supporting data from the courts that were handing out the sentences.
Whatever the cause, anyone who has been charged with a driving violation involving alcohol may wish to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney to obtain an analysis of the evidence, potentially helpful legal arguments and, when appropriate, assistance in negotiating an acceptable plea agreement with the prosecutor.