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DUI and “The Scarlet Letter”

By James R. Osgood and Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By James R. Osgood and Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A “Scarlet Letter” bill designed to shame repeat DUI offenders into compliance with the law has recently been proposed in Mississippi. State Rep. Gary Chism drew attention for suggesting a “Scarlet Letter Tag bill” that would require individuals convicted of two or more DUI’s in the State of Mississippi to have a “Scarlet Letter” tag on their license plate.[1] The tag would be yellow with red writing on it and the idea behind the bill is to use social stigma to shame individuals into compliance with the law. According to Rep. Chism, “Maybe your friends, maybe your coworkers, certainly law enforcement would be able to see you didn’t learn your lesson the first time”. [2]

Similar bills have passed in various states before and several have been proposed in the last few years.[3] The bill suggested by Rep. Chism that requires the use of a special yellow tag with red writing is similar to a law in Ohio requiring individuals convicted of an OVI offense to have yellow license plates with red writing.[4]

Tennessee DUI penalties carry a similar purpose—even on a first offense! Since 2008, those receiving a first offense conviction of Driving Under the Influence are required to pick up trash on the side of the roadway or other public property. The law reads, in relevant part: “…as a condition of probation, [the defendant] shall remove litter during the daylight hours from public roadways or publicly owned property for a period of twenty-four (24) hours in three (3) shifts of eight (8) consecutive hours each.[5]”  “Each offender ordered to remove litter pursuant to § 55-10-402(a)(1) shall be required to wear a blaze orange or other distinctively colored vest with the words “I AM A DRUNK DRIVER” stenciled or otherwise written on the back of the vest, in letters no less than four inches (4″) in height.[6]

Individuals charged with a DUI are often most concerned about the possibility of jail time and do not realize the potential collateral consequences associated with a conviction or guilty plea, but those collateral consequences can have serious effects. Collateral consequences can include social stigma, child custody issues, increased insurance premiums, as well as the suspension or revocation of professional licenses, hunting licenses, travel restrictions to other countries, and carry permits.[7]

About the Author: Steven Oberman has been licensed in Tennessee since 1980, and successfully defended over 2,500 DUI defendants.  Among the many honors bestowed upon him, Steve served as Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. (NCDD) and currently serves as chair of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers DUI Committee.  Steve was the first lawyer in Tennessee to be Board Certified as a DUI Defense Specialist by the NCDD.

He is the author of DUI: The Crime & Consequences in Tennessee, updated annually since 1991 (Thomson-West), and co-author with Lawrence Taylor of the national treatise, Drunk Driving Defense, 7th edition (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen).  Steve has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee Law School since 1993 and has received a number of prestigious awards for his faculty contributions.  He is a popular international speaker, having spoken at legal seminars in 30 states, the District of Columbia and three foreign countries.

If you would like to contact the author, please visit: http://www.tndui.com

The author would also like to recognize and thank Kaitlin Kazmier, a second year law student at the University of Tennessee College of Law, for her research contributions to this article.

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[1] WREG News Report. http://wreg.com/2016/01/07/mississippi-legislator-to-propose-scarlet-letter-tag-bill-to-crack-down-on-duis/(Feb. 9, 2016, 5:11PM).

[2] WREG News Video (Jan. 7, 2016) http://wreg.com/2016/01/07/mississippi-legislator-to-propose-scarlet-letter-tag-bill-to-crack-down-on-duis/(Feb. 9, 2016, 5:11PM).

[3] Two proposed in 2015, one proposed in 2014, and three proposed in 2013. National Conference of State Legislatures, http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/special-plates-for-drunk-driving-offenders.aspx(Feb. 9, 2016, 5:11PM).

[4] Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 4507.02.

[5] Tenn. Code. Ann. § 55-10-402.

[6] Tenn. Code. Ann. § 55-10-420.

[7] Steve Oberman, Other Consequences of a DUI Conviction, Oberman & Rice Trial Attorneys, http://www.tndui.com/other-consequences (Feb. 9, 2016, 5:11PM).

About Steve Oberman

Profile photo of Steve Oberman
Since graduating from the University of Tennessee Law School in 1980, Mr. Oberman has become established as a national authority on the intricacies of DUI defense law. Steve is a former Dean if the National College for DUI Defense, co-author of a national treatise, ("Drunk Driving Defense" published by Aspen/Wolters-Kluwer) and author of "DUI: The Crime and Consequences in Tennessee" (published by Thomson-Reuters/West). He has taught thousands of lawyers, judges and members of the general public about the intricacies of this crime. As a Tennessee DUI attorney, Mr. Oberman has successfully defended over two thousand clients charged with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol and/or drugs. In 2006, Mr. Oberman became the first DUI lawyer in Tennessee to be recognized by the National College for DUI Defense as a Board Certified Specialist in the area of DUI Defense law.

If you would like to contact the author, please visit: http://www.tndui.com


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