Public Humiliation: Ohio's Yellow DUI License Plates


Ohio was the first state in the country to require public shaming for a non-sex offense when it passed the law for yellow DUI plates. Public humiliation was common in the "mob justice" eras of the 1600's-1800's. In fact, public humiliation used to be the primary form of punishment prior to the institutionalization of prisons. The theory was that by placing a low level criminal in the center of town and having the community enforce a form of punishment upon him would adequately punish the offender and deter others. Stockades in the town square are most often thought of for this form of punishment.

However, this form of punishment was eventually declared cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of our 8th Amendment right to be free from such governmental practices. But, as we all know, the 8th Amendment does not have a list of outlawed practices. As America's jail and prison overcrowding has reached its own 8th Amendment status (e.g. California's prisons), state's are going back to these alternative forms of punishment.

Ohio flung the door wide open with our "DUI PLATES" (bright red numerals on a brighter yellow background). I think of the bright yellow DUI plates as state branding of a citizen. For many months or years, a citizen in Ohio will have to drive with these plates which are an indelible criminal record. Even once the plates are removed, the stigma will remain. Friends, family, neighbors, clients and customers will all recall and always remember your vehicle with those plates.

I am adamantly against this form of corporal punishment in public. Driving impaired or intoxicated will not be eradicated as a result of this form of punishment. The only way to eliminate DUI in America is to wage a culture war against it much like we did, successfully, with smoking. What was once a very dangerous, common, and relatively accepted and frequent habit has become significantly diminished. It became less socially acceptable to be seen smoking in public. At a minimum, it lost its glamour.

Our law firm being on the front lines of DUI in Ohio and having represented nearly 10,000 people accused of it, I can testify to the fact that DUI plates have done nothing to (a) deter DUI or (b) increase DUI arrests. Just as placing a person in a stockade for a day or two did little to offset horse theft, this form of public shaming will not move the needle on decreasing DUI in Ohio.