profile of Judge Carmine Bravo (pic) who has undertaken to systematically address drunk driving sentencing:
You've seen them before: the lollipop-shaped markers along state roads adorned with fake flowers, fading photographs or discolored stuffed animals. As you drive by, the words "Drive Safely" come into view in bold, blunt letters. Perhaps you slow down a bit. Maybe you stop texting. You might place a second hand on the steering wheel.
It's more likely you won't pay any attention at all. But hundreds of Florida families wish you would. And if you drive drunk, recklessly or commit repeat traffic offenses in Seminole County, Judge Carmine Bravo will make sure you start noticing.
The 18th Circuit Court judge has always been known for his creative sentences, but as one DUI case after another came across his desk, Bravo said he wanted to find a way to educate and not just punish offenders. Since 2004, he has sentenced drivers convicted of misdemeanor traffic offenses to writing 500-word essays about the people memorialized in roadside markers.
"Sentencing should include something punitive, educational and remedial if possible," Bravo said. "Many don't realize how irresponsible they can be on the road. It takes focus, care and maturity to drive."
The Florida Department of Transportation has been providing the round aluminum signs free to families of crash victims since 1997, said spokesman Steve Olson. His agency's maintenance office in Oviedo, which covers Seminole and north Orange counties, receives about 20 requests a year — particularly along Interstate 4, State Road 46 and S.R. 50.
In Bravo's Marker program, offenders are ordered to research five crash victims, retrieve accident reports, visit the memorial site, make some kind of improvement while there and take a picture. Through the years, the judge has received hundreds of reports; some were handwritten, while others were typed or bound in plastic folders.
Woman told story of sisters in angel-themed scrapbook
The essay rubric was simple. Writers were to include details about the crash, the impact it had on the victim's family and how it could have been avoided. They often included their own reflections.
"Ain't a buzz in the world worth somebody's life," wrote Elijah Ortiz on loose-leaf after being found guilty of drunken driving last year. "Cab fare is cheaper than a funeral and DUI charge." Some people took the project so seriously that they recovered photos of crash scenes and interviewed the victim's relatives.
Nelimar Baello was encouraged by her attorney to complete the program after she landed in Bravo's courtroom on a speeding charge in 2005. The 33-year-old woman placed each typed page of her work in a plastic page protector and tucked them in an angel-themed pink scrapbook.
Baello said she was uncomfortable about "going to a place where someone died, but then you understand the reality that when you speed you could end up dying or killing someone else." She focused part of her essay on two sisters, ages 2 and 5, who were killed in 2004 when another driver ran a red light and smashed into the family car.
"I have learned a lesson by doing this project. … Feeling the agony of what occurred in these sites, it made me think that innocent people could die due to reckless driving," she wrote.
I like and agree with these sorts of creative efforts; although I have my doubts about whether there is any empirical value. It would be nice to see some sort of statistical study--enough of these programs exist, although DUI sentencing isn't standardized anywhere. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to see some sort of 5 year follow-up for defendants who undergo creative sentencing versus punitive programming. The thing is--does writing an essay help a drunk driver make some sort of neurological connection between his or her act of impaired driving and death?