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Should driving while intoxicated be punishable by imprisonment on the first offense?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/28/2014 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 485 times Debate No: 53527
Debate Rounds (3)
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The issue of driving while intoxicated has expanded greatly over the years, and I am starting to do a little bit more research on the topic. I am a college student who is writing a research paper on this topic, so I would like to challenge anyone to further educate me as to why driving while intoxicated should not be punishable by imprisonment on the first offense. Aside from my research paper, I would like to be more knowledgeable on the topics and of course I enjoy a thorough debate. Good luck to my opponent


I'm guessing round 1 is just for acceptance since that seems to be the standard protocol. So I accept. This will be my first debate, which is actually my prime motivator for accepting. Good luck and I look forward to your opening argument.
Debate Round No. 1


The first round was for acceptance, and we can now debate! This also is my first debate, so this should be interesting! I will bring up a few key ideas in the this round.

Driving while intoxicated as we all know is an example of poor judgment, and there are consequences that follow. After being charged with a DWI once, you are likely to pay a fine of a certain amount and your license would be revoked. After 3 or 4 charges (depending on the severity of the situation), the individual would be charged with a felony in which they would serve prison time. I feel that because so many things could happen with a drunk driver on the road, you would be taking your chances letting someone go with a fine and maybe a night in a jail cell. If someone is going to make a decision like that once, chances are that they will do it again. I know firsthand that people learn from mistakes, but some continue even after facing consequences.

Prison time does seem harsh for getting behind the wheel after maybe only a few drinks and barely blowing above a .08, but we have a brain and we can make decisions. If you were in such a hurry to leave wherever you were, maybe you should have been more responsible.

By no means do I want to seem like a judgmental prick for bashing drinking. I enjoy drinking as much as any other college student, but I believe that there is no issue with having a good time and being responsible. Hell, get obliterated and sleep wherever you were drinking, just don't get behind a wheel afterwards. I look forward to seeing your opening argument.


As opposed to a point by point rebuttal, I will simply begin by summarizing my own understanding of Pro's argument and the provide my own opening argument, which will act as an overall rebuttal in itself.

Pro, as I have best understood, asserts that by increasing the level of punishment for the crime in the first instance this would act as a better deterrent and rehabilitative consequence that the current method of a fine or other civil punishment. Pro also asserts this is due to driving while intoxicated being a result of "poor judgement". I should point out that Pro actually admits that imprisonment actually "does seem harsh". I assert that more than simply "harsh" it neglects to deal with the underlying issue of what causes the crime to be committed in the first place, and also ignores multiple studies and mounting evidence that the existing penal system actually does not deter or reduce criminal activity.

Firstly I point to a paper released by the Sentencing Advisory Council in Victoria Australia, which examines the issue of imprisonment as a deterrent to crime over-all using both local and international studies for resources. This can be found here as a PDF -

I wish to highlight two paragraphs in the opening of the paper which states:

"Deterrence theory is based upon the classical economic
theory of rational choice, which assumes that people weigh
up the costs and benefits of a particular course of action
whenever they make a decision. Deterrence theory relies
on the assumption that offenders have knowledge of the
threat of a criminal sanction and then make a rational choice
whether or not to offend based upon consideration of
that knowledge.

Rational choice theory, however, does not adequately
account for a large number of offenders who may be
considered "irrational". Examples of such irrationality can
vary in severity " there are those who are not criminally
responsible due to mental impairment, those who are drug
affected or intoxicated and those who simply act in a way that
is contrary to their own best interests. Research shows that
the majority of offenders entering the Victorian criminal justice
system have a history of substance use that is directly related to
their offending."

Right from the outset it is noted that intoxication in itself reduces the ability of a person to make rational choices. While this supports the Pro's point that drink driving is an example of poor judgment, it also speaks to the over-all point - that once intoxicated, a persons ability to make a judgement is immediately impaired, thus weighing up consequences of punishment are automatically hindered. As such knowing the potential outcome of breaking said law and making a decision in one's own "best interest" is more difficult while intoxicated to begin with. As such a harsher penalty is already being undermined by the persons inability to make rational decisions.

Secondly the paper further illustrates that the threat of imprisonment does not act as a deterrent, that the only known deterrent to have a positive impact is the level of certainty of being caught. In other words, the more certain you are that you will be apprehended, the less likely you are to commit a crime. The level of punishment in itself does not enter the equation, ergo a fine or civic penalty if it is a 100% certain outcome of the action, is as effective as imprisonment itself. It is not the punishment that acts as a deterrent, rather the thought of being caught to begin with. This is why crime can see a reduction in city's where a visual police presence is increased.

However it should be noted that sentencing and punishments for crimes are not intended to only be general deterrents, but are also intended to have a rehabilitative effect. As such, the idea should be that serving a level of imprisonment being an unpleasant experience should deter an offender from repeat offending. As can be seen in this study found here:
as reported by Public Safety Canada - repeat offences are not impacted by imprisonment. In fact some studies have indicated criminal behavior is nurtured and increased by spending time in prison itself. A further study by the JFA Institute supports this and labels the American prison system an "expensive failure". (as seen in this Reuters article -

Taking this information into account, not only would the threat of imprisonment be an unlikely deterrent itself, having served a level of imprisonment for many individuals may not act (and studies suggest it won't) as a suitable future deterrent to re-offend.

Another consideration is current prison over-crowding. This in itself is something of a hot-topic issue so I do not wish to debate that specifically, but I will merely point out that if some places are already experiencing issues with "over-crowded prisons", then imprisoning those who are caught driving while intoxicated would further exacerbate the issue, given the over-all frequency this crime is actually committed.

Finally I will end my opening argument by pointing out a more human element to the over-all crime and issue, simply that what constitutes "intoxicated" varies and in terms of an individuals susceptibility to be actually be impaired through intoxication also varies greatly. Two people can have the some number of drinks and each blow completely different Blood Alcohol tests. Governments have attempted to standardize a level deemed "appropriate" , but these can vary, so while in American states .08 may be acceptable, in Australia (for example) .05 is the legal limit.

Simply put any sentence should be suitable to the crime committed, which in itself should be judged based on the actual outcome of the crime, and not a potential possibility of something that hasn't actually occurred. Punishment for offences where a person is drink driving should be based on the degree of danger represented to society as a whole, which SHOULD include a known history of the individual repeatedly offending and breaking the law. This is because by giving a person other "chances" so to speak, a behavioral pattern can be established to determine if the individual poses an ongoing threat to the well being of society and SHOULD indeed be imprisoned in order to remove that threat. A first instance of such an offence is insufficient and does not adequately address any concerns or issues that may have led to the person committing the act, be it simply poor judgement, or a deeper psychological issue, or even perhaps simply under-estimating how much they have drunk and what their blood alcohol content actually is (in other words, making a genuine and honest mistake).

To serve an actual jail sentence for a simple honest mistake, in regards to something that cannot always be easily monitored and can vary based on location and individual is not only harsh, but in itself, criminal.

For the above reasons I state that imprisonment on the first offence would be inadequate, ineffective, and in some cases, inhumane.

I look forward to your rebuttal.
Debate Round No. 2


lien9212 forfeited this round.


Well, my opponent has forfeited this round, clearly allowing for my argument to go uncontested. I will use this as an opportunity to thank my opponent, and also highlight that I in no way condone driving while intoxicated.
Debate Round No. 3
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