Natalia J. Garland
All behavior has consequences. It is believed that alcoholics
must experience negative consequences from their drinking in order
to make positive behavioral changes. However, alcoholics have
enablers who cushion them from experiencing direct negative
consequences. A typical example of an enabler is the wife who
telephones her husband's boss and says he has to take the day off
due to illness when, in reality, he has a hangover. The legal
system has also often served as an enabler. In the past, the
police did not arrest drunken drivers. There was no such thing as
a D.U.I. There were no negative legal consequences.
While mental health
workers became cognizant of the diagnostic and treatment
ramifications of drinking and driving, the courts seemed to lag
behind in figuring out how to sentence people who committed crimes
under the influence. Based on my own clinical work, judges seemed
slower in gaining knowledge about the disease concept of
alcoholism. Such specialized knowledge was, of course, outside
their area of legal expertise. Nowadays, however, judges and
probation officers work more closely with mental health providers
on a number of problems, especially in cases involving addiction
or domestic violence.
addictions, there is a crossroads of disease and criminality. Once
a person commits a crime under the influence of alcohol, he crosses
over from alcoholic to criminal offender. The two pilots, Cloyd
and Hughes, attempted to operate an airplane under the influence of
alcohol and they were arrested. The arresting police officers
were obviously well trained. The prosecuting attorneys were
aware of the behavioral significance of B.A.C. levels. The jury
apparently knew, or learned during the court proceedings, that
consumption of alcohol distorts thoughts and actions. Most of all,
the judge appeared to be no stranger to alcohol-induced crimes.
argued that the pilots were guilty even though the airplane never
took off, and that the passengers were victims. Is this
accurate? Let's compare drinking and flying to drinking and
driving. If you are inside a parked car with the keys in the
ignition and you are intoxicated, you can be arrested for D.U.I.
This parallels with the pilots ordering their airplane to be
towed out to the runway. The intent was to take off. A few
minutes later and they would have been in the air, flying from
Miami to Phoenix, and anything could have happened.
It follows that the
passengers were victims. Beyond the inconvenience of a delayed
flight, the two pilots had transported the 124 passengers through
the crossroads of disease and criminality. The pilots, legally
intoxicated and breaking the rules of the F.A.A., irresponsibly
risked the lives of the passengers. That risk alone was enough to
result in a fear of flying among some passengers. (It should be
noted that the F.A.A. reports that in 2002 only nine airline
employees tested positive out of the 10,419 who underwent random
Cloyd and Hughes
were sentenced to five years and two years in the state prison,
respectively. Was this a direct negative consequence? Remember,
they had been arrested in July, 2002. During the meantime,
Hughes got a real estate license, and Cloyd was selling cars to
make a living. Life went on. Aside from whether their sentences
were fair, it is questionable if imprisonment will be felt as a
direct consequence of alcohol abuse due to the passing of time.
Was the judge fair
in sentencing the pilots to prison? Unless the prison offers a
treatment program and A.A. meetings, it is doubtful that their
time in prison will benefit them in terms of addressing their
alcoholism. Should the pilots be punished for being alcoholic?
After all, they have a disease. This is a difficult question,
the answer to which has yet to be perfected.
As the judge said,
Cloyd had already had chances. He had a history of alcohol
problems back to 1986 (a D.U.I.). He had taken anger management
classes in 1998, which means he was familiar with the mental
health system and he knew how to seek help if he wanted it.
Perhaps five years in prison is a logical consequence of his
continued drinking, his disregard for rules and laws, and his
endangerment of human life. How much should society tolerate?
was more comprehensive in that A.A. attendance was a post-prison
requirement. It seems that Hughes had no prior criminal record.
Hughes has been sent a strong message regarding the seriousness
of his crime and his condition, and he has also been afforded an
opportunity to get help and to make positive behavioral changes.
Hughes can still reclaim his life and restore his family.
When people abuse
alcohol, they lose control of their lives. It then falls upon
the courts to take control in order to protect society from harm.
Many alcoholics probably do not belong in the prison population of
real criminals who steal, assault, and murder. Generally,
alcoholics do not have criminal personalities. Alcoholics break
the law when their judgment has been impaired from alcohol
consumption. That brings us back to: they have lost control of
The court system
and the mental health system are imperfect. Much progress has
been made since the days when there was no such thing as a D.U.I.,
no such thing as mandated treatment, and no awareness of enablers
or enabling systems. Cloyd and Hughes have not been enabled.
That much was accomplished. It is now up to them to continue
their insanity or to admit they are alcoholics and get help.
(Written 08/15/05: bibliography available.)
Until we meet