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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with Professor Shea Denning on drunken driving podcast

Shea Denning, a professor in the UNC School of Government and expert on motor vehicle laws, is creating a podcast that analyzes impacts of drunken driving sentences through interviews with convicted drivers.

Staff writer Samantha Paisley sat down with Denning to discuss why she is pursuing this research.

The Daily Tar Heel: What inspired you to investigate the impacts of drunken driving convictions?

Shea Denning: I spend a lot of time talking about DWI sentencing, teaching judges about what their options are, but I feel like I’m pretty out of touch with how those particular sanctions work in practice and affect people.

DTH: Why did you choose a podcast rather than another media platform to share this information?

SD: We started here at the School of Government, several years ago, a blog called the Criminal Law Blog. One of the things that people have said to us is, ‘Well we love to read, but we’d also like to listen.’

Particularly court officials who may be in the car traveling to court from one courthouse to another, or lawyers who are in the car driving from one court to another, or just people who learn more by listening than they do by reading.

DTH: What questions will you ask in the interviews?

SD: I tried to make clear that what I was interested in is finding out what kinds of behaviors the sentencing sanctions affected, what impact they have on people’s lifestyles and where people went from there.

I’m more interested in having people talk about their experience than I am asking a stock set of questions for people to answer.

DTH: Who is the intended audience of these podcasts?

SD: I see it as, number one, court officials because court officials have some discretion in what kinds of sanctions they impose.

I think it might be informative to them to hear, ‘Well here are a handful of people who received sanction X, and here is the feedback that they had about that sanction.’

I think the general public is a great audience because a lot of people have no idea what the actual consequences are for behaviors that we have defined as infractions or crimes.

DTH: How far along in the process are you?

SD: We’re at the very beginning stages. I wrote about my interests in interviewing folks, and frankly I thought it was going to be really hard to find people who were willing to talk to me, but it has been quite the opposite.

DTH: Do you foresee policy recommendations for substance abuse treatment resulting from this podcast?

SD: I think it would be irresponsible to make policy recommendations based solely on the handful of people who call me back and say, ‘I want to talk to you.’

What I think these interviews might do is identify areas for digging a little deeper — so identify whether the life sentence revocations are having their intended effects, identify whether the substance abuse treatment is having the impact that policymakers want it to have and maybe some follow up in that regard.

I don’t make policy, I don’t want to make policy, but I would like for the people who make policy to have all of the information that they can to make that be a wise and informed choice.

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