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Why It Makes a Difference Who Becomes President

A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a harsh reminder of exactly what is at stake when electing the next President of the United States.

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a New Mexico case that convictions for drunken driving do not count as violent felonies for enhancing prison sentences.

The justices, by a 6-3 vote, said even though great harm can result from drunken driving, it is different from other crimes that involve purposeful action. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion.

“Great harm can result from drunken driving?” There’s an understatement. Death occurs from drunken driving, and the more times someone drives drunk the more likely death is to occur. Exactly, how many times did Larry Begay drive drunk? Well, we know by examining the Supreme Court decision (pdf) that…

At the time of this incident, petitioner was a convicted felon. He had 12 prior convictions in New Mexico for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). While DUI is generally a misdemeanor under New Mexico law, the offense of DUI after at least three prior DUI convictions isa felony requiring a sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment. N. M. Stat. Ann. §66–8–102(G) (Supp. 2007).

And, according to Judge Alito’s dissenting opinion the Supreme Court decision also had the following statistics available to them at the time of the decision:

Statistics dramatically show that driving under theinfluence of alcohol is very dangerous. Each year, approximately 15,000 fatal alcohol-related crashes occur, accounting for roughly 40% of all fatal crashes. Approximately a quarter million people are injured annually in alcohol-related crashes. The number of people who are killed each year by drunk drivers is far greater than the number of murders committed during any of the crimes specifically set out in the statutory provision at issue here,§924(e)(2)(B)(ii)—burglary, arson, extortion, and offenses involving the use of explosives.

Petitioner’s qualifying offenses, moreover, fell within the statute only because he had been convicted of DUI on at least three prior occasions. As noted, petitioner had a dozen prior DUI convictions. Persons who repeatedly drive drunk present a greatly enhanced danger that they and others will be injured as a result. In addition, it has been estimated that the ratio of DUI incidents to DUI arrests is between 250 to 1 and 2,000 to 1.6 Accordingly,the risk presented by a 10th, 11th, and 12th DUI conviction may be viewed as the risk created by literally thousands of drunk-driving events. That risk was surely “serious,” and therefore petitioner’s offenses fell squarely within the language of the statute.

This repeat drunk driver was a violent crime waiting to happen. Actually, considering what brought him to court in the first place, it was only by a sheer stroke of luck that Larry Begay did not commit a violent crime:

In September 2004, after a night of heavy drinking,petitioner pointed a rifle at his aunt and threatened to shoot if she did not give him money. When she replied that she did not have any money, petitioner repeatedly pulled the trigger, but the rifle was unloaded and did not fire. Petitioner then threatened his sister in a similar fashion.

So, when you think about it who to elect as President, remember, they get to select the judges to fill open Supreme Court slots.