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Lawyer's 'Admit to a DUI' Scholarship: Deterrent or Marketing Ploy?

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By William Peacock, Esq. on January 02, 2015 11:08 AM

Is this a noble attempt at deterring teens from driving drunk or a marketing ploy? We'll let you decide.

Christian Schwaner, a DUI defense attorney in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is offering a $1,000 scholarship to the winner of a contest for teens who admit to driving drunk. Applicants must also research the dangers of doing so and come up with a plan for avoiding such missteps in the future, reports The Denver Post.

Critics, however, are already lining up, with some saying that it might implicitly encourage drunk driving and others worrying about the ethics implications of the contest.

Self-Admission and Self-Education

"I was trying to find what might be something that is a light-bulb moment for these kids," Schwaner explained to The Post. "Self-admission and self-education are very powerful tools."

His "First Step Scholarship" is meant to encourage teens who drink and drive to reflect on their behavior -- behavior which he sees regularly as an attorney who represents teen DUI defendants.

He also said that the scholarship was not intended to be a reward for bad behavior or a marketing ploy. "That's not my intention in any shape or form," he told The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog.

Mixed Reactions

Schwaner's strongest supporter seems to be Mark Waller, a state lawmaker who praised the scholarship in The Denver Post.

"The average person drives over 80 times before they are caught drinking and driving," Rep. Waller told the Post. "If (Schwaner) has kids engaging in something thought-provoking to change that behavior, after the third or 10th time, that potentially saves lives."

Other officials were far less enthusiastic. Eric Hall, president of the El Paso County Bar Association, told the WSJ that the idea seemed "a little ill-conceived."

"I have a little bit of concern that he's asking for confidential communication admitting to illegal activity that's not covered by attorney-client privilege," Hall noted. "The students submitting essays are not his clients. They are just people submitting essays to him for this scholarship."

That's an excellent point: Though Schwaner said that the applications would be confidential, unless there is an attorney-client relationship, the admissions aren't privileged. It seems unlikely that anyone would subpoena the scholarship applications but still -- it's worth considering.

What are your thoughts on Schwaner's scholarship: marketing ploy or DUI deterrent? Tweet us @FindLawLP.

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