TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Let’s Toughen Liquor And Driving Violation Laws

Anyone who knows me has probably been wondering when I would get around to some legal topics. Their wait is over.

Our communities have a Safe Community Coalition. Part of its function is to monitor licensed liquor establishments for sales to minors and other violations. They release the results to the media on a regular basis.

Fines are supposedly imposed by the cities and if the bars send their employees through training to assist in detecting under aged individuals, the fee usually is waived. These are, to my knowledge, administrative fees imposed by the cities, not by any court. So far, they do a good job detecting and exposing the violators.

“What’s the problem?” you may ask. It is this: In the past five years, there have been no liquor license revocations in Fargo or Moorhead — none at all. Not one.

Fargo has been No. 1 in liquor violations of all types — including minors in possession. Fargo issues liquor licenses on a regular basis; it is those with strong finances who get them.

Recently a man was murdered at a Fargo bar. The man’s wife was knocked unconscious. Numerous people were charged with the murder. According to Forum online reports, a district prosecutor indicated all involved were intoxicated.

When the incident started, the bar where the incident took place told the group to “take it outside” … which they did. That’s when the assaults and murder occurred.

Between the Fargo Police Department, the City Commission and the Liquor Control Board, someone could have taken action against the offending liquor establishment. If there is no existing ordinance or law that would allow them to do so, then they have a duty to enact one.

No suspensions for underaged sales. No suspensions for knowingly allowing intoxicated individuals to remain on the premises. And, as shown in this case — no common sense by the establishments in calling authorities to report these individuals and have them safely removed, or taken for detoxification, if authorized by law.

Why wouldn’t any of these establishments call the police first thing? They fear of implicating their liquor licenses. That’s a pretty groundless fear, given what the city of Fargo has not done.

If you want to cut down on alcohol-related crime, make sure there are severe consequences — severe enough that it’ll make the purveyors of booze at least go “ouch.”

Good establishments suffer loss of reputation because of the actions of a few bad ones. It’s long past due that enforcement kick in legislatively and legally.

One might wonder about the thinking or rationalization that apparently takes place in some courts when it comes to sentencing. If a driver causes a death while driving under the influence, the sentences are usually severe. If drivers cause a death by texting or some other form of distracted driving, their sentences are minimal at best.

People seem to feel sorry for the text killers. Their victims are just as dead as those killed in a DUI accident. Both are unlawful actions resulting in needless loss of life. Perhaps,  it’s time for legislators — who make the laws — and law enforcement — who enforce them — to get together and equate a violation for texting and other distracted driving to the seriousness of the offense.

Too often, judges and some prosecutors will listen to the families of the deceased, asking for leniency because a stiff penalty “won’t bring their loved ones back.” The error in that logic is that it’s the public that needs the protection … and the sentences should deter distracted drivers to protect the public, not necessarily just punish the driver who was at fault.

Many criticize defense attorneys for these light sentences, as well as the Legislature’s failure to enact adequate laws. I do not! The defense bar in this community is as good as it gets; those men and women uphold their legal duty to their clients, and that’s how it should be.

There are weaknesses in North Dakota noncriminal traffic laws as well. How many people have been killed in accidents who would have lived, had they simply buckled their seat belts? How many cyclists, both motor- and bicycle, have suffered death or serious brain injuries because they didn’t want to wear a helmet?

Minnesota has traffic penalties that will wake you up in a hurry if you’re cited. In North Dakota, the State Legislature has gone further than failing to stiffen the laws. It has actually tied the hands of the cities to enact tougher laws.

North Dakota traffic penalties are the laughingstock of the entire country. That’s just plain wrong. In a recent article, I declared that in North Dakota sentencing for alcohol violations by minors does little to deter drunken driving.

With all the problems we have to deal with every day, the subjects I’ve covered here should be no-brainers for those who enact laws. I hope someone in North Dakota stokes up the fires of interest — anything to save just one life! Amen.

2 thoughts on “TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Let’s Toughen Liquor And Driving Violation Laws”

  • Larry Gauper March 17, 2016 at 4:54 am

    Well stated, Tom, one of your best! I recall that one of the chief opponents of a primary seat belt law in North Dakota was killed in an auto accident because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. All other passengers in the vehicle survived because they were buckled-up.

    1. Judge Thomas A. Davies (retired) March 17, 2016 at 11:21 pm

      Thanks Sir Larry, your observations are always appreciated


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