Surprise Costs for Some DUI Defendants

By Mary Ann

Most drivers know that a DUI conviction is expensive–court costs, fines, probation fees, license reinstatement fees and increased automobile insurance rates are just some of the direct and indirect financial penalties associated with a DUI conviction.

In some states, though, the DUI law authorizes an additional charge that may come as a surprise to DUI defendants after the fact–a bill for rescue services. Other states’ local governments are authorized by statute to bill drunk drivers for emergency response services.

Virginia Beach and Chesapeake in Virginia both send out such bills regularly, netting hundreds of thousands of dollars thus far from drivers convicted of DUI offense in situations that required an ambulance, rescue team or fire department response.



Change In Illinois Law Creates New Incentive for DUI Convictions

By Mary Ann

A recent change in the way funds obtained through DUI convictions can be spent by law enforcement agencies creates a new incentive for those agencies to up DUI conviction rates.

The $100-200 the law enforcement agency receives for each DUI conviction was once allocated specifically for the purchase of alcohol-enforcement-related equipment like breathalyzer machines.

With the law change, though, those departments have much greater leeway in the disposition of those funds. Read the full story here: Illinois DUI Funding Law



States Act to Reduce Breathalyzer Refusals

By Mary Ann

Breath test refusals have long created complications for DUI enforcement, and have been advocated as a strategic means of beating a DUI charge in some states.

Two states have recently acted to address that problem in very different ways: Rhode Island, where the refusal rate had climbed to 85%, has enacted increased penalties for breathalyzer refusal.

At the same time, South Carolina is piloting a program to reduce the benefits of breath test refusal by making a request for a warrant for blood testing the next step in a refusal case.



Warrantless Midnight Search Invites FBI Investigation

By Mary Ann

Last month, Miciah Massey and Tashawntay Wade filed suit in federal district court alleging that the Lake Forest Park, Washington police department violated their civil rights.

While the precise facts of the case are in dispute, this much seems clear: a family friend, Thomas Brooks, was arrested several months ago for DUI.

He happened to be driving Massey’s car. Neither Massey nor Wade was with Brooks at the time of the arrest, and Brooks lives in Nevada.

Brooks returned to Nevada without appearing in court, and a warrant for his arrest was issued on misdemeanor DUI charges.

One night in November, Lake Forest Park police officers appeared at Massey’s door after midnight, looking for Brooks. Wade told them that Brooks had returned to Nevada but, according to the couple, the officers pushed their way inside the house, waking two young children and Massey’s father and thoroughly searching the house.

Massey and Wade have filed a civil suit, and the FBI has opened an investigation into whether the couple’s civil rights were violated, but the most troubling aspect of the story is the position maintained by the law enforcement agencies involved.

The attorney for the Lake Forest Park Police Department insists that so long as police had a reasonable belief that Brooks was in the house, they had a right to enter and conduct a warrantless search of the premises–the home of another family, where they knew Brooks did not reside.

In addition, Massey’s license plate number has been entered into a state patrol database, linked to Brooks, and Wade has twice been pulled over by officers looking for Brooks.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported last week that the database administrator said that it was unfortunate that Massey and Wade kept getting stopped, but that it was appropriate for officers to continue to stop them. Wade filed a complaint with the police department and was reportedly told that the only way to resolve the problem was to get Brooks to return to Washington to face the DUI offense.



Nebraska Increases Penalties for Drivers over .15

By Mary Ann

This week Nebraska joined the growing number of states increasing DUI penalties if the driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) in excess of .15%.

Under the new provision, either 2 days in jail or a minimum 120 hours of community service will be mandatory for DUI offenders who cross that threshold.

In addition, the driver’s license suspension is increased to one year for these drivers.



DMV Ordered to Pay Costs in License Suspension Delay

By Mary Ann

In most states, an automatic administrative license suspension accompanies a DUI conviction–or even a breathalyzer test failure.

A West Virginia Supreme Court decision recently stated that where the defendant’s due process rights had clearly been violated, the DMV could be required to pay the defendant’s costs, including DUI attorney fees and expert witness fees.

The decision triggered so much backlash, including at least one strongly negative newspaper editorial, that one of the Justices who had originally joined in the unanimous opinion went back six weeks later and entered a dissent.

That didn’t change the legal effect of the ruling though: the DMV in West Virginia is still potentially liable for fees and expenses incurred as a result of delays it causes in violation of a driver’s due process rights.



Tennessee Lowers BAC for Boaters

By Mary Ann

On July 1, 2003, the state of Tennessee lowered the “legal limit” for drivers to .08.

Thereafter, as in most states, the driver of a motor vehicle could be convicted of a DUI offense on a showing that his blood alcohol content level was .08 or higher.

However, due to an “oversight”, the legislature did not extend that change to boaters.

New legislation that took effect on July 1, 2006 corrects that oversight and lowers the blood alcohol level reading necessary to convict a boater of operating under the influence to .08 as well.



Pennsylvania DOT Warnings Insufficient in Refusal Cases

By Mary Ann

DUI attorneys often argue that their clients who face administrative–or in some cases even criminal penalties–for refusing a breathalyzer test haven’t made a “knowing and voluntary” refusal.

DUI law varies on that standard from state to state, but most courts seem to lean toward finding a refusal if there’s a legitimate question.

So, it’s somewhat surprising that a Pennsylvania court ruled that reading the warnings prescribed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was not sufficient.

The PennDOT warning form has since been modified, so only cases in which defendants received the old format warnings will be directly affected by this ruling.