Oklahoma City Personal Injury Lawyers

Could It Happen in Oklahoma? Short Answer: Yes.

Business Owner Gets Work Release for 7th DUI Offense

When a Washington business owner who is a repeat drunk driver was assigned to nights-and-weekends jail time after his seventh DUI arrest, it drew attention across the country. The question for those of us who share the streets and highways of Oklahoma City is, could this ever happen here?

Joseph Shaun Goodman, 42, was driving his Ferrari in Olympia, WA, at speeds of up to 100 mph near midnight last December. He had enough booze in his system to test at 0.16 blood alcohol concentration, twice the legal limit for a DUI conviction in Washington, as it is here in Oklahoma.

Police gave chase through downtown Olympia. Goodman crashed his Ferrari F360 into two cars and a house before coming to a halt in a church parking lot, where police arrested him.

Goodman had prior DUI and drunk driving offenses in 1993, 1994, 1999, 2004, 2006 and 2011. He managed to get two of those, in 1999 and 2004, reduced to lesser charges. That left four previous DUIs on Goodman’s record. Doesn’t Washington have a tougher penalty for repeat offenders like Goodman?

Yes and no. Washington state law does provide for stricter penalties for repeat offenders, but Goodman didn’t meet the criteria. Washington law distinguishes between “misdemeanor DUI” and “felony DUI.” Drunk driving becomes a felony upon a driver’s fourth conviction in a 10-year period. Thanks to getting that 2004 charge reduced, Goodman’s DUI was “only” his third in the past 10 years.

The Judge Not So Tough

At the sentencing, Judge James Dixon compared Goodman to “an individual with a loaded gun walking through downtown firing rounds.” Judge Dixon knows how to talk tough, but his actual decisions tell a different story.

First, while Goodman was out on bail awaiting trial, the judge granted the business owner permission to attend the Super Bowl in New York City. Why not? Even drunk drivers need to have a little fun, right?

When it came time for sentencing, the judge ordered Goodman to spend 364 days in jail. It is the maximum penalty allowed in Washington for a misdemeanor DUI.

But if 364 days in jail is the maximum, then 364 nights and weekends in jail is something quite a bit less than that. Right? Nevertheless, the judge gave Goodman work release. Goodman is allowed to leave jail each morning to go to work and is expected to check himself back into jail each evening.

Favoritism for the Rich?

Goodman owns and runs a telecommunications business. The judge said Goodman’s employees and the community would suffer if they were deprived of the businessman’s magnetic presence during work hours.

Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim said, “There was no favoritism allowed here. The gut reaction is to want to punish him more than other offenders because of the fact that he had money, and we’re not going to do that, either. We’re going to treat him the same as we would treat any other offender.”

Is anybody actually buying that? Has any other seven-time offender been granted work release? Or permission to attend the Super Bowl? I doubt it.

Exactly how does Goodman’s work release work? Is he allowed to go out on business appointments? To run personal errands? To go out for lunch? Is he allowed to do pretty much whatever he feels like doing?

And don’t answer by quoting the law or the judge. Don’t forget, Goodman is a serial lawbreaker. Is anybody monitoring Goodman’s day-to-day schedule? Or is he pretty much free to do as he wishes? Just as long as he shows up back at the jail by supper time. Unless, of course, there happens to be a good football game in town.

Could It Happen in Oklahoma?

The big question for us Oklahomans is: Could it happen here? The short answer: Yes.

In Oklahoma, a second DUI conviction is a felony. That’s tougher than Washington’s rule that it takes four strikes to be considered a felon.

In Oklahoma, the punishment for a person’s first felony DUI is 1 to 5 years in prison and up to a $2,500 fine. That’s tougher than the penalties they are dishing out in Washington.

However, make sure to read the fine print. Oklahoma Statutes (Title 47, Section 11-902C) say that a person convicted of one’s first felony DUI shall:

“Participate in an assessment and evaluation … and shall be sentenced to:

  • a. follow all recommendations made in the assessment and evaluation for treatment at the defendant’s expense, or
  • b. placement in the custody of the Department of Corrections for [1 to 5] years and a fine of not more than $2,500, or
  • c. treatment, imprisonment and a fine.”

In other words, time behind bars is optional. A treatment plan for alcoholism is an alternative, but only to those who can afford it.

Plea Bargaining

One of the things that ‘saved” Goodman was getting a couple of his DUI charges dropped down to lesser offenses. Plea bargaining is also very much a possibility for drunk drivers in Oklahoma. If you can afford a good attorney.

Just do a Google search on Oklahoma + DUI defense + plea bargain. Every defense attorney out there lists plea bargaining as one of the things a good attorney can do for a drunk driver. One Tulsa attorney says on his website:

“It is a fact that about 90-98% or more of all Tulsa DUI-DWI-APC cases are plea bargained or pled out to avoid jail or reduce the amount of exposure or reduce to a lesser offense or to try to avoid a record or ‘label.’ Most cases are 1st or 2nd time offenders who are seeking to avoid a jail sentence, which most of the time can be obtained as part of a ‘plea bargain.’”

So, yes, there are many ways a repeat offender in Oklahoma could theoretically have an outcome like Goodman’s.

  • A good attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain that avoids a felony conviction.
  • If the offender is found guilty, the sentence may be to follow a treatment plan rather than do jail time.
  • If the offender is sentenced to jail time, a work release arrangement may minimize the actual time behind bars.

I am a plaintiff’s attorney. I represent people who have lost loved ones and/or have been seriously injured as a result of someone else’s drunk driving. I have seen the tragedy and heartache drunk and drugged driving can cause.

However, despite my tone, I am not against plea bargains or treatment plans or work release programs. Every case should be evaluated on its merit. Judges and juries should tailor a sentence that fits the crime.

However, it is absolutely wrong when the rich get preferential treatment. That’s obviously what happened in Washington. The judge’s own words reveal that much. Goodman was granted work release because his employees depend upon him, the judge said.

But the same thing is often true of most middle-class and low-income offenders. People at all economic levels have spouses and children who are depending on them to bring home the groceries and make mortgage and car payments.

Has Goodman not trained a single employee to run things in his absence? If not, he’s as bad a business manager as he is a driver. In contrast, low-income individuals often have no support network to turn to take over caring for their families while they are serving jail time.

For more information about drunk driving in Oklahoma, including explanations of many state laws and penalties related to drunk and drugged driving, see “DUI, Drunk Driving.” If you have suffered harms and losses as a result of someone else’s illegal driving, Contact Us for a free consultation.