Last week, the state sent a clear message to Oregon DUII offenders when it sentenced repeated drunk-driver John Cole Cargren, 47, to 43 years in prison. Cargen killed four people as a result of driving under the influence on I-84 last October. The DUII conviction is his fifth since 1984.
Cargren was charged with four counts of manslaughter along with the criminal DUII charge. Read Portland’s KATU news coverage of the incident here.
From a DUII law perspective, this tragedy offers an opportunity to point out interesting aspects of DUII law here in Oregon and its relationship with Oregon criminal law. An Oregon DUII is usually a misdemeanor charge. The penalties for a class A misdemeanor conviction vary widely and are determined by several factors relating to the case. A DUI conviction can carry a fine up to $6,500, a lifetime revocation of driving privileges, up to a year in jail, and mandatory attendance in DUII awareness programs. Completion of these programs shows a commitment to altering criminal behavior and can help reduce penalties; Cargen failed to complete any mandated DUII programs until 1999.
After a driver’s third DUII charge, an extremely rare instance but not unheard of as evidenced by Mr. Cargren, the punishments stiffen harshly. At this point the driver can be charged with a Felony DUII according to Oregon criminal law.
Many drivers never get to this point because Oregon DUII law affords several opportunities for DUII offenders to get back on track after a drunk driving conviction. If the offender has a quality DUII attorney, they will be counseled to complete all mandated DUII programs and change their habits to avoid another DUII conviction. A second or third DUII charge is much harder to defend than a first.
Interestingly, under Oregon criminal law DUII offenders cannot enter into a plea agreement, they must plea to their charge. This means that most people who face a DUII charge plead guilty and enter in to the state’s Diversion Program, where after a year, the DUII charge is removed from their record. This structure highlights the state’s commitment to reduce repeat DUII offenders, while simultaneously offering relief to people who commit an unfortunate lapse in judgment.
Drivers in Oregon should be grateful for this opportunity to remove their DUII charge from their record and get on with their lives. But, according to a 2005 study commissioned by Multnomah County, about 1/3 of participants fail to complete the Diversion Program. These drivers are more likely to be arrested for a DUII and face the harsh penalties that await repeat offenders. The state of Oregon hopes to entice DUII violators into this program to lower recidivism.
If you are convicted of a DUII in Oregon, the state affords several opportunities to get your life back. The drivers, who never learn from their mistakes, do not attend programs, ignore their DUII lawyers, and repeat their crimes, risk forfeiture of their freedom. If you are convicted of a DUII, please, follow the sound advice of your DUII lawyer and complete the generous programs offered by the state, I’m sure Mr. Cargen wishes he did.