Texas county to name drunk drivers on Twitter

If you get busted for drunk driving in Montgomery County, Texas, this holiday season, your neighbors may hear about it on Twitter.

That's because the local district attorney's office has decided to publish the names of those charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) between Christmas and New Year's Eve.

County Vehicular Crimes Prosecutor Warren Diepraam came up with the idea as a way of discouraging residents from getting behind the wheel while drunk. "It's not a magic bullet that's going to end DWIs, but its something to make people think twice before they get behind the wheel of a car and drive while they're intoxicated," he said.

The Houston-area county will start publishing names on Twitter during holiday weekends such as the Christmas holidays, Fourth of July and Memorial Day, which are thought of as times when a lot of people drive while intoxicated.

The information is already a matter of public record and it is not uncommon for local newspapers in the U.S. to publish the names of those charged with drunk driving or soliciting a prostitute as a kind of public shaming. But these practices are controversial, and some legal pundits wonder if publishing names on Twitter is going too far.

A "person who's been arrested is still innocent unless proven guilty," said Houston defense attorney Paul Kennedy in a blog posting. "My question is should the DA dismiss a case against a motorist or should a motorist be acquitted by a jury of his peers, will Mr. Diepraam offer a public apology on Twitter as well?"

Just "because facts are publicly known and made available by the media, doesn't mean the prosecutor has to actively publicize these facts," wrote Venkat Balasubramani, a lawyer and Internet law blogger.

Diepraam dismissed such criticism. "We're not putting information in the public that's unavailable," he said. "In our area, we've got a population of around 6 million people and I sincerely doubt that the fact that I've put someone's name on a Twitter page is going to affect their right to a fair trial."

Names of those arrested for DWI will be posted on District Attorney Brett Ligon's Twitter page.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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