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The crime of drunk driving – called operating under the influence, or OUI, in Maine – is possibly the most politically-motivated individual crime on the books. There are so many private organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) that continuously push for harsher and harsher penalties for people convicted of OUI. In another attempt to net all the votes they can, politicians continue to go to new and unprecedented lengths to ensure this happens.
Now, in New Mexico, a program run by the state’s Department of Transportation and advocated by the governor is set to start publishing OUI cases on Twitter.
New Mexico’s social media campaign has been spearheaded by MADD, who obtained a two-year, $800,000 grant to attend hearings in five New Mexico counties that have seen a spike in OUI-related arrests and deaths. Working in tandem with the governor’s office and the New Mexico Department of Transportation, and getting paid by the state, members of MADD will be following an allegedly random assortment of OUI cases through the judicial system and reporting developments on Twitter.
According to New Mexico’s Republican Governor, Susana Martinez, the social media campaign is meant to showcase how lenient the judicial system is on OUI offenders.
“It will help us identify where the judicial process can be strengthened,” she said in a news conference about the program, building on her idea that it’s time to “hold the justice system accountable for failing to punish DWI criminals.”
Needless to say, New Mexico’s new program to shame people who have been arrested for OUI is not without opponents. Privacy advocates stress the fact that an arrest for OUI is not a conviction for OUI. Publishing information about someone’s court case makes it seem to the general public that they’re guilty, even if they aren’t.
To make matters worse for the program, the Department of Transportation has stated that it is considering attaching a mug shot to the updates on social media. Such a practice brings to mind the so-called “mug shot industry,” which had posted similar arrest pictures online for the internet-using public to gawk at, and then charge the subjects in the pictures a steep fee to take the photos down. The negative feedback to these websites had been strong, but now it seems that New Mexico has decided that it’s okay, if the crime they’ve been arrested for happens to be OUI.
These developments out of New Mexico are disturbing, for many reasons. Not only does it show the political power of anti-drunk driving advocacy groups, but it also shows the lengths to which politicians are willing to go to appease them. Such a social media campaign intrudes on the privacy rights for anyone who gets arrested for OUI, and presumes that they are guilty, even before their trial. The fact that it is all being done to put political pressure on judges and prosecutors is shocking. I’d like to think that our Judges and Justices in Maine are above such nonsense but then again, I never thought I’d see a development like New Mexico’s in my lifetime. I guess I was wrong but hope I am right about our Maine Judges, who tend to be some of the most fair-minded, justice driven and unimpeachable people in the field.
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