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Tennessee's drunk driving 'shaming law' value questioned

"The Scarlet Letter" is a classic bit of American prose. It was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850 and tells the story of a Puritan-era mother who is punished by her neighbors to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her dress as a shaming device for having conceived a child by a man other than her husband.

The novel used to be a staple of the educational curriculum in much of the country. We don't know if it is anymore. If it isn't, it's probably because the social conventions that made it once so powerful aren't quite as strong today as they were 150 years ago.

The notion of public shaming has not lost its proponents as a general concept, though. For the past eight years in Tennessee it's been a staple of punishment meted out to first-time drunk driving offenders

Under the law, those convicted of driving under the influence for the first time face jail time, loss of license, a fine, some remedial education around alcohol abuse and probation. In addition, they are sentenced to three, eight-hour community service tours doing roadside litter patrol wearing bright vests that say "I am a drunk driver."

All combined, it presents a good case for why a person facing drunk driving charges should be working with an experienced attorney to fight them.

Ask a defendant about the value of this so-called "Shaming Law" and you're likely to hear that it serves its intended purpose well. But many law enforcement officials aren't convinced it's worth it and they're calling on Tennessee lawmakers to consider finding other ways to stop drunk driving.

They point to the number of repeat offenders as an indication that shaming doesn't seem to work. They also say that the mandated method costs too much. At a time when budgets are too tight, the cost of busing and supervising the offenders during their work details.

Reports we've seen about the issue haven't included comments from lawmakers on the subject, so we don't know whether the proposals are likely to gain any traction at the capital.

Source: WKRN-TV, "DUI 'Shaming Law' has officials questioning its effectiveness," Nadia Ramdass, April 29, 2013 

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