Revolving Door Keeps Spinning for City’s Drunk Drivers

amd_tenzing.jpgDWI Killer Tenzing Bhutia got two years for the 2007 death of Julia Thomson. Photo: Daily News
The Post last weekend noted some disturbing statistics relating to city drunk driving prosecutions. Out of 10,000 arrests last year, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, 6,000 cases worked their way through the courts, with just 187 offenders receiving jail time. Further tarnishing DA Robert Morgenthau's record on traffic justice, Manhattan was the "most lenient" on those convicted of DWI -- with just 2.8 percent landing in jail -- and also had the city's lowest conviction rate at 75 percent. (The state conviction rate, the Post reports, is 95.6 percent over the last three years.)
Advocates, lawmakers and families of drunken-driving victims said the shockingly low number of jail sentences shows courts go too easy on offenders and do little to discourage recidivism. The claim is bolstered by state data showing 17 percent of arrested drunken drivers in 2008 had already had a DWI arrest in the past five years.

"Statistics seem to show that all too often, there is no effort to put these people behind bars," said state Sen. Craig Johnson (D-LI).

The numbers alone are startling enough, but the implications for traffic justice in the city are even more grave. As we've learned, it took a mammoth effort to get Albany to approve tougher penalties for drunk drivers, though such behavior had decades before come to be considered taboo among Americans at large. Now, as advocates and prosecutors in other jurisdictions are taking the next steps -- working to strengthen penalties against deadly drivers who aren't under the influence while vigorously prosecuting those who are -- the mindset of New York City enforcers apparently remains entrenched in the past.

When being caught driving drunk in pedestrian-populated New York City still means a slap on the wrist and a pat on the back, how long before we can expect justice for those injured and killed by drivers whose negligence isn't abetted by alcohol?