Theories of Punishment and DUI

Introduction to Theories of Punishment and DUI

Theories for Punishment and DUI

When it comes to the American justice system, theories of punishment for crimes are a driving force in the execution of punishments. There have been four major theories of punishment for as long as the criminal justice system has been in place within the United States. These theories include deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, and retribution.i While the creation of some punishments will combine multiple theories, each theory can stand alone as a driving force for a specific punishment. When it comes to punishment and DUI, many theories have come into play for their creation – but studies recently have started to look into the effectiveness of each. In 2014, 9,967 people died from drinking and driving incidents in the United States.ii Even though this number has decreased from 10,076 in 2013, the number is still incredibly high.iii Some advocates argue that the punishments are not strict enough, while others argue that the change will just happen slowly and that progress is actually being made. So a big question of debate right now is what theories of punishment drive drinking and law consequences, and which seem to be more effective than others.

First Theory of Punishment – Deterrence

To begin with, deterrence is broadly defined as the use of punishment as a threat to deter people from offending.iv Deterrence can then be broken down into two sub-categories, which include specific deterrence and general deterrence. Specific deterrence focuses on the individual in question, so for drinking and driving cases it’v The goal of specific deterrence is to try to prevent the current defendant from repeating his criminal actions.vi This is also commonly referred to as individual deterrence.vii Since the court wants to focus on the individual defendant, the punishment will likely be more tailored to their needs. For example, the court might require therapy for the individual, if the court believes that will help deter the defendant from future crime.

This is different from general deterrence, which focuses on trying to create prevention of future crimes from individuals – other than the defendant.viii This is done by making an example of the defendant who committed the crime at hand.ix The goal of the court is to make an example out of the defendant, basically to scare future possible defendants from ever committing a similar crime (or any crime at that). Since the court wants to make an example out of the defendant, so the judge may not be as focused on the individual defendant as a judge would be if the theory of punishment was specific deterrence.

Making an example out of someone can be very effective in deterrence, but there are situations where no matter how many examples are made – the crime rate will not drop. Arguably, drinking and driving is among that group. While many individuals, especially those affected by the tragedy left behind with drinking and driving incidents, will likely deter from drinking and driving, that is not necessary the case for others. One thing about deterrence that is interesting, especially with drinking and driving is that many people do not think it can happen to them. With crimes like murder or rape, it is pretty clear to an individual whether or not they will commit that crime, drinking and driving is not as clear.

Unfortunately, it is very common to drink and drive in the United States. While one beer may not impair the driver to an extent that would be an issue, one beer for another driving could lead to catastrophe. So it may be the case that making an example out of someone’s punishment and DUI may not lead to any general deterrence.

Second Theory of Punishment – Rehabilitation

The next theory of punishment is rehabilitation. This is broadly defined as re-integration into society for a convicted person.x The main objective of this type of punishment theory is to treat the convicted person so when they reenter the general public they can live a crime free lifestyle.xi The use of this punishment theory was heavily favored during the 1970s and 1980s, but slowed down in steam after a while.xii Today, the court systems are trying to bring back this theory of punishment when designing punishments for crimes today.xiii

While the ideal society does not have any crime, we do not live in the ideal society. Arguably, a close second would be a society in which a person is convicted of a crime and after rehabilitation efforts – never commits a crime again. While this is not the case of our society either, the goal of this for rehabilitative theorists has not changed.

When it comes to drinking and driving punishments geared toward rehabilitative efforts, some options for those convicted individuals include standard Alcoholics Anonymous classes.xiv In some courts, the convicted individual may be forced to attend the Alcoholics Anonymous class as part of their sentencing requirements.xv Attending a class may seem like a brutal punishment to some, but to others, it can be truly life changing. For those who really benefit from the class, the rehabilitative theory of punishment seems to be working well. In theory, if the class is beneficial to the convicted individual, they will be less likely to drink and thus, less likely to drink and drive.

Some individuals may not ever even attend the class, even though it is court ordered. At that point, failure to comply with the court orders will result in punitive penalties.xvi In a way, this then turns into a specific deterrence theory of punishment. If the court cannot rehabilitate, then at least they can try to deter them from future wrongdoings by punitive damages for failure to comply.

Third Theory of Punishment – Incapacitation

This theory is much more commonly known that the others: incapacitation. Incapacitation refers to the restriction of an individuals liberties and freedoms that they normally have in society. One common way this theory is implemented is if the convicted individual spends time in prison or jail. Simply put, this is the theory that crime will be prevented from a convicted individual in the future if they are just incarcerated to some extent.xvii This theory is very forward thinking theory, and this is because it looks more at prevention of future crimes rather than fixing past crimes, it only looks to prevent future ones.xviii When it comes to drinking and driving punishments, jail time is incredibly common even for a first offense. With each offense, the amount of jail time could increase, depending on the judge and jurisdiction.

Incapacitation does not just end when the convicted individual is released back into society. Once the convicted individual reenters society they are given hurdles to overcome during day-to-day life. One of the hurdles these individuals could face would be parole. Parole refers to the time period after the individual is released from prison, typically early from their sentence.xix Common conditions of parole include the released individual living in a halfway house, checking in with their parole officer on a regular basis, and continued payment of fines from the court.xx

These hurdles are put into place to hopefully continue preventing this individual from committing any further crimes. The use of an ignition interlock system might be a condition of parole for an individual who was released after serving time for a drinking and driving violation. This is certainly a way to prevent the individual drinking and driving in the future.

Fourth Theory of Punishment – Retribution

Punishment and DUIThe final theory of punishment is retribution. Retribution is the theory that when a person commits a crime, they must forfeit something of theirs in return.xxi The punishment must be in proportion with the crime.xxii This is not to be confused with revenge, which is typically a personal vendetta against another. Retribution has procedural safeguards and inherent limits to what can actually be done to an individual through the criminal justice system.

With drinking and driving violations, a punishment driven by retribution theory, could take away the driver’s license through suspension or full revocation. If a person drinks and drives, that is a violation of the law, and such a violation should be punished. It would be uneven to take away the driver’s car for a first incident, but it could be fair to take away the driver’s car after a fifth drinking and driving incident – especially one that resulted in a death.

Conclusion to Theories of Punishments and DUI

While the debate is still out on which of the theories of punishment has a better backing when it comes to punishment and DUI laws, it seems as though each of the four theories have merits in their own rights. The four major theories of punishment; deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, and retribution have been the prevailing theories for hundreds of years, and for good reason. Every driver on the road has a different personality, and a different way in which they respond to punishment for a crime. For this reasons, and plenty of others, it is unlikely that these four theories of punishment will be abandoned for something new. No one theory will be successful because of the diverse group of people who commit these crimes. The theories just need to be further tailored all around and the court will need to properly administer punishment to the convicted individual.


i See James L. Nichols Ph.D. and H. Laurence Ross, Ph.D. The Effectiveness of Legal Sanctions in Dealing with Drinking Drivers (Accessed June 15, 2016) https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/NNBCYB.pdf
ii See Ignition Interlock and Drunk Driving Statistics Intoxalock (Accessed June 15, 2016) https://www.intoxalock.com/ignition-interlock-devices/statistics
iii Id.
ivSee James L. Nichols Ph.D. and H. Laurence Ross, Ph.D. The Effectiveness of Legal Sanctions in Dealing with Drinking Drivers (Accessed June 15, 2016) https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/NNBCYB.pdf
v Id.
vi Id.
vii See Specific Deterrence Sociology Index (Accessed June 15, 2016) http://sociologyindex.com/specific_deterrence.htm
viii See James L. Nichols Ph.D. and H. Laurence Ross, Ph.D. The Effectiveness of Legal Sanctions in Dealing with Drinking Drivers (Accessed June 15, 2016) https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/NNBCYB.pdf
ix Id.
x Id.
xi See Beth M. Huebner Rehabilitation Oxford Bibliographies (Published December 14, 2009) http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396607/obo-9780195396607-0046.xml
xii Id.
xiii Id.
xiv See Mandated Attendance DUI Laws (Accessed June 16, 2016) http://dui.laws.com/alcoholics-anonymous
xv Id.
xvi Id.
xvii See Incapacitation in Criminal Justice: Definition, Theory & Effect (Accessed June 16, 2016) http://study.com/academy/lesson/incapacitation-in-criminal-justice-definition-theory-effect.html
xviii Id.
xix See What is the difference between probation and parole? Free Legal Advice Criminal Law (Accessed June 17, 2016) http://criminal-law.freeadvice.com/criminal-law/parole_probation/probation_parole_pardon.htm
xx Id.
xxi See James L. Nichols Ph.D. and H. Laurence Ross, Ph.D. The Effectiveness of Legal Sanctions in Dealing with Drinking Drivers (Accessed June 15, 2016) https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/NNBCYB.pdf
xxii Id.