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N.Y. county revises online 'Wall of Shame' anti-DWI initiative

By The Associated Press
10.22.08

MINEOLA, N.Y. — County officials announced a major shift in an online campaign against drunken driving yesterday, one day after a judge ruled that posting arrests on a "Wall of Shame" violates due process.

Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi insisted the county was within its rights to distribute the names and photographs of accused drunken drivers but said he would wait until suspects are convicted before listing them on the Internet.

Attorneys who represent accused drunken drivers said that still was not acceptable and punished people beyond what state statutes allow.

Suozzi's announcement came a day after state Supreme Court Judge William LaMarca ruled that announcing the drunken-driving arrests before a suspect has a chance to make his case in court violates due-process rights.

The judge's ruling applied to one petitioner who sued over the policy, but Suozzi conceded it was likely to invite additional lawsuits.

Although he planned to appeal on legal grounds, Suozzi said the county, like most municipalities, was facing a financial crisis and rather than defend additional lawsuits, he would now list only those convicted of DWI-related crimes after a trial or plea bargain.

Holding up newspapers trumpeting the arrest of New York Yankees star pitcher Joba Chamberlain on suspected drunken-driving charges last weekend in Nebraska, Suozzi took issue with LaMarca's ruling that the Web site creates "limitless and eternal notoriety, without any controls."

"I don't think that it makes any sense" to differentiate between publication in a newspaper or the Internet, Suozzi said.

"The objective of what we're trying to do here is to change the culture that exists related to drunk driving, that it's not just a socially acceptable crime," Suozzi said.

The county initiated the Wall of Shame effort last Memorial Day weekend after a highway patrol officer who had stopped one suspected drunken driver on the Long Island Expressway was struck and seriously injured by a second driver, also suspected of being under the influence.

Since Memorial Day, about 1,400 drivers accused of being under the influence of alcohol have appeared on the county's Web site. Police officials also said DWI-related arrests are up 6% over the same period a year ago.

Brian Griffin, an attorney who brought the case LaMarca ruled on, said Suozzi's reversal still violates state law. Griffin contends that if Suozzi wants to list convicted drunken drivers on the county Web site, he will need legislative approval.

He cited a 1995 state Court of Appeals ruling that found a judge was wrong to order a repeat drunken driver to attach a license plate reading “CONVICTED DWI."

In that ruling, the state's highest court said: "While innovative ideas to address the serious problem of recidivist drunk driving are not to be discouraged, the courts must act within the limits of their authority and cannot overreach by using their probationary powers to accomplish what only the legislative branch can do."

Attorney Elizabeth Kase agreed. She represented a client who was arrested for DWI in Hempstead this summer and was later cleared of all charges when it was discovered the driver was suffering from a diabetic reaction and had no alcohol in her system.

"The question is why call it a 'Wall of Shame'?" Kase said. "By doing that, you're still making it a punishment. I don't believe a Wall of Shame does anything positive for anybody."


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