I received a very heartfelt letter from a 7th grader at a local middle school in Quincy, MA a few years back. Like many people, she is concerned about drunk driving, given all the press attention these cases get. So I wanted to give her an honest answer about why I defend people accused of drunk driving.
Here is her letter and my response:
Dear Attorney Russell Matson,
My name is Cynthia and I am a seventh grade student. My teacher asked me to write a letter about an issue that concerns me, and I have chosen drunk driving. I am therefore writing to tell you to stop helping drunk drivers that are breaking the laws.
When people drunk drive and they crashed into another car and the other driver dies, it’s the drunk driver’s fault, and not the other driver’s fault and you are helping the drunk drivers?! The drunk driver is the person that killed innocent lives! You shouldn’t be helping drunk drivers.
Did you know that every 30 minutes, a person in the U.S. dies because of drunk driving and they are the ones breaking the laws and you are still helping them. I hope you will try to not help drunk drivers because they need to know that they did something wrong, and that they will need to not do that again.
Attorney Russell Matson, I am asking you to please stop helping people that are not following the laws. If you stop helping drunk drivers they will know that they did something very wrong and they will not do it again. Thank you for considering my ideas.
Thank you for writing me with your concerns about drunk drivers. I really do understand how you feel, and I agree with you that drunk driving is a dangerous thing to do. No one should ever drive if he or she can’t do so safely, without causing risk or danger to others. Anyone who makes a mistake should be encouraged to never do it again.
In fact, most people I defend understand this. If they know they are guilty, they are usually embarrassed and ashamed, and never make the same mistake again.
However, let me explain to you some of the reasons I help people accused of drunk driving. I consider my job a very important one, and I am proud of what I do. I do not and would not help anyone break the law, and I never ever advice or encourage illegal behavior.
But the problem is, drunk driving is a crime that almost any adult could be arrested for under the wrong circumstances, whether they are actually guilty or not.
Adults who drink a glass or two of wine are usually not impaired. But if they get stopped for speeding or any other reason, the police officer may smell some of that wine on their breath. The officer may ask them to walk a straight line, or balance on one foot.
While these things may not sound difficult to do, I believe these tests are often very unfair.
When your teacher gives you a test at school, it’s always on something that you’ve been taught or studied for. You probably had to do some practice examples on the board. Then, after you’ve studied and practiced, the teacher gives you the test. Everyone in the room is quiet so you can concentrate on the test and do your best work.
Now imagine how you would do if your test was like this: Your desk is on the side of the highway. Cars are whizzing by you very closely. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s late at night and you’re tired. Even worse, the only light you have to see by is the flashing blue lights on a police car, and an officer’s flashlight pointing in your face.
The police officer shows you one very quick example question. You try hard to pay attention, but it is very distracting and stressful. You aren’t allowed to do a practice question yourself. Then the officer puts the test on your desk and hands you a pencil. The paper almost blows away when a car whips by, so you have to hold the test down with one arm as you start writing.
Oh, and one more thing: If you don’t pass this test, you know you are going to be arrested and put in a jail cell. How well do you think you would do if you had to take a test like that?
To make it even more unfair, many people who are old or overweight, or have back or foot problems, or women who wear heels would never be able to pass these tests. Even if they worked hard and practiced everyday, they just couldn’t pass. But that doesn’t matter, they can still get arrested for failing!
Now, I’m not saying everyone I represent is innocent. The police generally do a good job protecting people, but sometimes they make mistakes. If a police officer thinks there is a slight chance a person shouldn’t be driving, then they will arrest that person just to be on the safe side. And the prosecutor doesn’t care if the person is really guilty or not, it’s his or her job to argue for a guilty verdict.
So you see, the system isn’t fair if I’m not there to argue the other side of the story. Then a judge or a jury gets to decide who is right. If there were no defense attorneys, everyone ever accused of a crime would be guilty.
Has anyone ever said anything about you that wasn’t true?
I’ve defended teachers and doctors, moms and dads who are regular people who never imagined they would get arrested and charged with a crime. I’m proud to be able to help people, and I love being part of our country’s criminal justice system. It’s not perfect, but it is the fairest system of rules and laws in the world.
Thanks for writing to me, Cynthia. I think it’s great that you care so much about keeping people safe. I know you may not agree with me, but I hope you understand what I do a little better now.
Call the law offices of Russell Matson to talk to a drunk driving / DUI / OUI defense attorney anytime at (781) 380-7730.