The Hidden Purpose Behind Law Enforcement Advertising

Shawn Matlock has been busy while the rest of the legal nation spent its time staring at the TV screen hoping to see a wardrobe malfunction at the Democratic National Convention.


We have all seen the billboards around that read “Drink. Drive. Go to jail.”  For the longest time, I just assumed this was standard scare-tactic propaganda used to frighten people away from ever drinking and driving.

I thought these billboards were aimed simply at scaring the uninformed populace to change their “law-breaking” ways. If someone saw the enormous billboard and read that, maybe they would think twice about hitting the road after having that beer with their Mexican food. That’s the point, isn’t it? Well, I’m not sure it really is.

But as the bow-tied blawger formerly known as Young Shawn recognized, there is a latent, and far more insidious affect.


Not too long ago, I had a conversation with my father about some federal case I had where there were some complex search and seizure issues. I tried to explain to my twenty-ninth generation Texan, former rodeo cowboy, straight-talking father that the government can’t actually just walk into your house and seize everything on a hunch. To my dismay, he apparently assumed the government could.

During the middle of the conversation, my father interrupted me to state very matter-of-factly that “If you drink and drive, you go to jail. End of story.”

Shawn was shocked that his father would have swallowed this hype, lock, stock and barrel.  After wiping the drool from his mouth, Shawn tried to explain to his father that this was a cute little advertising slogan, but it wasn’t the law.  Dad wasn’t buying.

It was in the midst of defining intoxication that Shawn had the epiphany that while these slogans and billboards might have no impact on people inclined to have a few for the road, they had a great impact on everyone else.  This advertising served not merely to put offenders on notice, but to firmly plant the idea in the minds of the public (also known as potential jurors) of what the law is, even though it isn’t the law.  But they don’t know that.

If Shawn’s right, then it’s a brilliant plan.  Try undoing this brainwashing with some quick instructions at trial, when the public has spent years seeing, and believing, that the law is simple and clear. 

Maybe we need to come up with some cute slogans of our own to counteract these advertising campaigns?  Like, “No more than three and you get home Scot-free?”   I hate the that phrase. 

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