Honolulu Police Publish Mug Shots of Drunken Driver Suspects on Web Site

Drivers on the Hawaiian island of Oahu will have to contend with more than just stepped-up patrols and sobriety checkpoints this Thanksgiving holiday. Their photos may end up for all to see on the local police department's Web site.

The Honolulu Police Department Wednesday began to post photos on its Web site of drivers suspected of drunken driving. In conjunction with its other traffic safety programs, the department inaugurated the program this week in advance of the holiday, when more drunken driving arrests are usually made.

"We are posting the photos to show that a drunken driver is not necessarily a known criminal," said Maj. Thomas Nitta, head of the traffic division for the Honolulu Police Department. "It could be your relative, your friend, your co-worker."

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On the home page at www.honolulupd.org, a black box with "Oahu's Drunk Drivers" links to page after page of people arrested for OVUII -- Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant -- complete with name, date and type of arrest and a mug shot.

A driver whose blood alcohol content is at .08 percent or above is considered under the influence in the state of Hawaii. The listings are of arrests from the previous week and are posted for only 24 hours, with a new set of photos every Wednesday at 10 a.m.

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Honolulu police officers typically arrest 80 to 90 suspected drunken drivers every week, Nitta said. Last week's count was 56. Alcohol and speed accounted for about 20 percent of this year's traffic fatalities.

The program has met with the approval of, among others, Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"We applaud it because we think, intuitively, it may have a preventive effect," said Arkie Koehl, chairman of MADD's Hawaii chapter. "There are no data to show that this has ever prevented anybody. We tend to think that it's not going to prevent the hardcore drunk driver or alcoholic. But the non-problem drinker or a partygoer would think twice."

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Nitta said the department has received calls and e-mails from the public expressing concern over posting photos of people who have not been tried and convicted.

On the Web site, a heading preceding the photos notes that "The following persons have been arrested and charged for OVUII. They are considered innocent unless or until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a judge or jury."

Patrick McPherson, a Honolulu attorney who handles DUI cases, questioned the police department's decision.

"I don't know anybody who's doing this before conviction," said McPherson, who is also the Hawaii state delegate for the National College of DUI Defense. "There's no empirical data to suggest that putting someone's photo on a Web site is a deterrent. The only logical explanation is that they want to embarrass somebody."

McPherson said he probably would tell his clients who have their photos posted to "suck it up," but believed the police department is unfairly treating those suspected of a DUI compared with other offenses.

He noted that the department did not think of all the possibilities when posting photos.

"What if it's an undercover officer or someone in the federal witness protection program, or a diplomat with immunity?" he asked.

Nitta said his listings are no different from a newspaper publishing a suspect's photo or a mug shot appearing on television.

"Once a person has been arrested and charged, the information and their photos are public record," he said. "This is nothing new. We now have the means and the technology."

But Honolulu criminal defense attorney Scot Stuart Brower said the postings are an archaic way of doing things, recalling the early 1600s of the Puritans and "The Scarlet Letter." He was particularly concerned with the "Oahu's Drunk Drivers" icon on the department's home page.

"It's deceptive," said Brower. "They're trying to attract people's attentions, and they're using a statement that's not truthful and is presumptuous. You expect the police department to be forthright."

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Nitta said the department will evaluate the pilot program on a week-by-week basis for the next six months, including monitoring how many hits the site receives.

"With the interest that this program has generated, people are going to look at the site," said Nitta. "Hopefully, they will realize how big the problem is. And maybe it will deter people because they don't want their photos up."