When punishing drunken drivers discretion must come with scrutiny

(China Daily)
Updated: 2017-05-17 07:32:05

A man sits in a mock coffin drinking alcohol during an activity to raise people's alert on drunk driving in Chongqing, southwest China, March 27, 2016. [Photo/Xinhua]

IN ITS LATEST GUIDELINE ON PENALTIES for drunken driving, the Supreme People's Court stressed the importance of punishments that suit the seriousness of the crime. The Mirror commented on Monday:

The harsh clampdown on drunken driving, which began in 2011, has significantly reduced the number of cases involving drunken driving, which were down about 34 percent for the period from 2011 to 2016, compared with the number in the previous five years.

However, there have been concerns that the criminal accountability for drunken driving has been "indiscriminate". That explains why the Supreme People's Court is once again exempting minor offenses from penalties and stressing the importance of penalties that suit the seriousness of the offense; that is the penalties should take into account how drunk a driver is, how fast he or she was driving, and whether any real damage has been done.

Such flexibility in the severity of punishments for those who break the law is no doubt welcome, but it requires extra caution, too. In the past five years drivers would be accused of drunken driving if they failed a breathalyzer test. With the new regulation taking effect, they may get away with such a conviction because of the consideration of other factors such as the speed they were driving at and whether they have caused any damage.

Besides, the penalties handed out for drunken driving could be biased, even compromised, if the law enforcers are willing to accept some money to look the other way.

The more flexible punishments, of course, do not mean drunken driving is no longer subject to the Criminal Law. Drunken driving is still a crime.

However, exercising discretion when punishing drunken drivers must be accompanied by tightened scrutiny.

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