share on:

Recently, a Houston offender convicted of DUI after killing a young man must wear a sign created by the victim’s mother, at the original crash site, over four consecutive Saturdays as part of his sentence. The sign read, “I Killed Aaron Coy Pennywell While Driving Drunk.”

This requirement was part of a two-year probated sentence, which many argued was quite light for the crime. The offender, Michael Giacona, was convicted of a DUI—his second. After serving 90 days of a one-year sentence, Giacona was released on “shock probation,” a program created by the state legislature for offenders deemed good candidates for rehabilitation who are “scared straight” after a short period of incarceration.

The judge, expressing concern over Giacona’s selection for shock probation, added the sign and a number of other sentencing requirements, including use of a SCRAMx monitoring bracelet, after expressing concern about Giacona’s behavior after the accident, his high BAC at the time of arrest, and the fact he was a repeat offender.

The sentence brings up an interesting question. Does shaming a DUI offender—and in this case, a repeat DUI offender—work to curb drunk driving?

Last year, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal discussing the “Whisky Plate” idea as a potential punishment for convicted offenders once they resume driving privileges. The article shared Washington State’s push to implement such a law. Minnesota had already adopted a Whiskey Plate law. With the threat of having to install what many would call a “scarlet letter” on your car, would it deter drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel in the first place?

Many would say no. Though the sign may be embarrassing for Giacona for a few hours, many believe that the embarrassment is temporary.

As for the Whiskey Plates, critics say it “unfairly stigmatizes offenders” and their families and is not effective at prevention. Take Ohio for instance. The Akron Beacon Journal reported in 2009 that Ohio’s restricted plates weren’t working because fatal alcohol-related crashes were up 2% since the state’s famous 2004 “Red Tag” law had gone in to effect. At the time of the article, Ohio had sentenced 46,000+ convicted DUI offenders with specially marked plates.

But the impact of Giacona’s sign sentence be more significant than you might first think. The case took an interesting turn when it was reported that the judge was going to reconsider Giacona’s sign sentence because of fear for his safety at the site. Reports indicate there was a great deal of verbal harassment from people during the first week of the sentence, presumably young people who may have known the victim. It’s not too difficult to envision the mob mentality at work and the potential for violence, though witnesses say the threats were verbal and “to be expected.”

Yet before the case could proceed, Giacona was sent back to jail to serve the remainder of his sentence because he refused to complete yet another court-ordered requirement of his controversial probation: Writing a letter of apology to the victim’s family. Apparently shaming has its limits.

What do you think? Is shaming a deterrent? Or is it a tactic that could help alter future behavior for a convicted drunk driver? Would it be more powerful when used on a first-time offender who is not necessarily alcohol-dependent, versus a repeat offender that is likely struggling with addiction or alcohol misuse issues?

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up: A blog about drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and criminal justice, is anything but a corporate blog. Sobering Up is an opportunity for anyone interested or involved in the issues of drunk driving, alcohol-fueled crime, alcohol dependence and addiction, and the justice system to participate in the conversation.

1 Comment

  1. No, shaming does not work. The person is clearly an alcoholic and shame is already a big part of the alcoholic’s issue. Adding more shame doesn’t encourage the person to cease drinking. In some cases, it actually increases the desire to drink in order to make it all go away. The alcoholic can spend so much time in their head and it is simply too difficult to think about all they’ve done under the influence so in order to make it stop, they drink. It seems to me that shaming is a really silly approach to a very difficult and complex issue.

Leave a Response

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.