By Mary Ann Pekara
The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Safety Report entitled “Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving” was adopted today.
The report contains several recommendations from the NTSB but the most prominent is the recommendation of a lower Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit, in hopes of cutting down on alcohol related crashes.
The NTSB is recommending that states lower their BAC limits, which currently sit at 0.08, to 0.05 or lower.
The NTSB itself can only make recommendations, not regulations, and the BAC regulations themselves are set at the state level; therefore, they have recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have the authority to provide incentive grants for states implementing this recommendation.
The current 0.08 BAC threshold is nationwide and has been for over a decade, but it was not easy getting there.
In the early 1980′s many states had a BAC threshold of 0.15 and it took 24 years to get all 50 states down to the 0.08 limit. The statistics show the difference:
Alcohol Related Highway Fatalities
Statistics show that the 0.05 BAC limit has the potential to save 500-800 lives per year.
Although that may be the most drastic of the NTSB’s recommendations in this Safety Report, it is not the only one.
A recommendation that many states have already implemented is the confiscation of the driver’s license at the time of arrest for people who exceed a certain BAC or refuse BAC testing.
The NTSB would also like to see ignition interlock devices being required for all first-time offenders. These devices prompt the driver to blow into them, checking their BAC, before they are able to start their car.
During accident scene responses, sobriety checkpoints and traffic stops, just to name a few, the NTSB recommends the use of passive alcohol sensors that would essentially “sniff” the presence of alcohol at the scene.
Although technology like this could not be used to arrest someone, it would assist in prompting additional field sobriety and BAC testing.
The overall goal of the National Transportation Safety Board is to bring our country’s substance-impaired driving statistics down as close to zero as possible.
By John Clark
The Colorado House passed a bill that sets a legal limit for marijuana in drivers’ systems, and the Senate is expected to vote on it soon, according to a report from the Huffington Post.
The issue became more pressing last November, when Colorado passed a law allowing a limited amount of marijuana use for recreational purposes, mirroring a similar effort in Washington, according to sources.
At the same time, however, Washington passed a law that set the legal limit of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, at five nanograms. In contrast, Colorado did not address the legal level of marijuana last year.
Under the proposed bill, Colorado drivers would also have a limit of five nanograms of THC. If drivers are caught with more than 5 nanograms of THC in their blood, they will be driving under the influence of marijuana, and treated like other DUI offenders.
According to the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat from Aurora, the bill is about “traffic safety” and sends “a very strong message that no longer can you get behind the wheel after smoking marijuana,” the Denver Post reports.
Sources note that this is the fourth time in the last three years that the Colorado House has pushed a bill addressing marijuana DUI laws, but each of the previous efforts has been thwarted by the Colorado Senate.
This year, however, supporters of the bill believe it has a higher chance of passing because of Amendment 64, the new state law that legalized recreational marijuana use.
Still, the bill has its opponents, many of whom worry that five nanograms is too low a standard, and will likely lead to the arrest of people who are not impaired.
But supporters of the bill claim that even drivers who have five nanograms of THC in their bloodstreams will be allowed to offer proof that they were able to drive safely, according to sources.
In the words of Rep. Mark Waller, a Republican from Colorado Springs, if “you did not exhibit poor driving, you can put that on as evidence to say, ‘Look my driving was not poor, I’m not unsafe to operate a motor vehicle,’” sources report.
Waller notes this bill is much different from previous versions of the marijuana DUI law that would have criminalized every driver whose blood THC levels were above the legal limit, regardless of his or her relative degree of impairment.
By John Clark
An Arizona court has upheld a decision that allows the state to prosecute Arizona drivers for driving under the influence of marijuana even if there is no evidence that they have been smoking pot, according to a report from the Arizona Republic.
Sources say the ruling, which was issued by the state’s Court of Appeals, addressed a complicated issue relating to the chemical compounds in marijuana.
When drivers are subjected to blood and urine tests after an arrest, two different pieces of evidence related to marijuana use emerge.
The first chemical compound provides evidence that the driver is actually impaired, while the other chemical compound is something that remains in a smoker’s system for weeks after he or she has smoked marijuana, but it doesn’t impair the average person’s driving ability.
Common sense would suggest that police officers should only use the first compound as evidence of intoxicated driving, but to the dismay of some state DUI attorneys, the Arizona court decided otherwise.
According to sources, the court claimed that both compounds apply to drivers under Arizona DUI laws. So if drivers have any evidence of marijuana in their system, they can be arrested for a DUI, even if they are in a perfectly suitable driving condition.
The court said the state’s legislature created the state’s DUI laws to “protect public safety,” so the court claimed it had a responsibility to interpret the statute “broadly,” and thus include both inactive and active chemical compounds found in marijuana.
The case initially arose from a traffic stop in Maricopa County that took place in 2010. During that incident, the arrested driver’s blood test only showed trace amounts of the chemical compound that is usually found well after marijuana is inhaled, according to sources.
According to one expert who testified in the case, the particular compound found in the driver’s blood doesn’t impair driving skills, and it may remain in the bloodstream for up to four weeks.
The driver’s DUI attorney said that only the chemical compound that impairs drivers’ ability to safely navigate roads is illegal, but the appellate court disagreed with this argument.
Despite the court’s decision, the original driver’s attorney is planning to file an appeal. He believes that the testing issue should be resolved because several surrounding states have legalized marijuana.
His concern is that residents of Washington and Colorado, where marijuana will soon be legal, will have to avoid driving through Arizona in order to avoid the state’s bizarre laws, which could have a negative impact on the state’s economy.
By John Clark
Despite the modern trend against drunk driving, a rogue county in southwest Ireland has passed a law that will allow some rural drivers to drive while intoxicated, according to a report from the Huffington Post.
Sources say the Kerry County Council voted this week to pass a measure that would let rural drivers apply for special permits allowing them to drive while drunk.
Five council members voted to support the controversial measure, while only three council members voted against it, according to local sources.
According to Danny Healy-Rae, the council member who promoted the resolution, rural Irish drivers have “never killed anyone” because the areas through which they drive are so sparsely populated.
In addition to the safety argument, Healy-Rae also peddled a mental health argument, although it may not be what one would expect. Sources say the councilman claimed the law would help keep a lot of rural drinkers “from falling into depression.”
Elaborating on his bizarre claim, Healy-Rae said people in isolated rural areas have no public transportation options, and new DUI laws have kept them “at home looking at the four walls, night in and night out, because they don’t want to take the risk of losing their license.”
Of course, while Healy-Rae may have legitimate concerns about the social lives of rural folks in Kerry County, he is also the owner of a local pub, and thus may have a conflict of interest.
The plan, which would allow rural residents to drive after having two or three drinks, according to the law’s proponents, has also drawn criticism from Noel Brett, the chief executive of Ireland’s Road Safety Authority.
According to Brett, it is “unthinkable” that Ireland would reverse its course on drunk driving after making “substantial progress in Ireland in reducing deaths and injuries on our roads, particularly in rural areas which are hardest hit by road fatalities and injuries.”
The proposal has also drawn sharp criticism from Alcohol Action Ireland, a nonprofit organization that has warned Kerry County officials that almost one in three automobile deaths in Ireland are related to alcohol.
Conor Cullen, a spokesman for Alcohol Action Ireland, also questioned Healy-Rae’s appeals to the mental health of rural residents, claiming such a view is far from the truth.
In Cullen’s words, “the link between alcohol use and suicide has been well established and alcohol will exacerbate” the depression experienced by the residents of Kerry County, not reduce it.
By John Clark
The Supreme Court agreed this week to review the constitutionality of a DUI law that allows police officers to draw the blood of drunk driving suspects without a search warrant, according to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle.
The law being challenged originated in Missouri, which followed the lead of several other states a few years ago by passing a law that allowed police officers to give blood tests to DUI suspects who refused to submit to a breathalyzer.
Sources indicate, however, that the Supreme Court will decide during its fall session whether police officers must obtain a search warrant before administering a non-voluntary blood test.
According to the state of Missouri, the U.S. Constitution does not require law enforcement officials to run to a judge to get approval to perform a blood test because time is of the essence with all DUI blood tests.
Under Missouri’s argument, if police had to seek judicial approval every time they gave a blood test, the blood alcohol level in a suspect’s system would have more than enough time to fall by a substantial margin.
Thus, in the interest of accuracy and efficiency, Missouri claims that its police officers must be able to gather the “best, most probative evidence” by administering blood tests as quickly as possible, so as not to destroy key evidence.
Several lower courts in other states have ruled on this question, but they remain split, which is why the Supreme Court has stepped in to resolve the matter.
Sources note that, in the United States, more than 1.4 million people are arrested each year for driving under the influence.
As a result, the Court’s decision will have a huge impact on the everyday lives of many Americans. Sources indicate, however, that 27 states have laws barring mandatory blood tests without a search warrant, so citizens of a slim majority of U.S. states will not be affected by the decision.
Still, the Supreme Court decision will be very important. The dispute before the Court stems from the 2010 arrest of a Missouri resident who was forced to take a blood test after an arrest despite his repeated objections.
According to the man who filed the lawsuit against Missouri, “not every case will involve a risk of losing evidence of intoxication before a search,” so the state’s primary argument falls short of proving that warrantless blood tests should always be allowed.
By John Clark
Most counties across the United States impose fines, jail sentences, or other punitive measures to penalize drunk drivers. But Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, has a unique program that proponents believe is far more successful than traditional methods of DUI punishment.
The county recently implemented its DUI Alternative Jail Program, which is known by most state officials as “DUI Hotel,” according to a report from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Under the terms of the unique DUI laws, DUI offenders spend three days and three nights at two participating hotels, where the convicted drunk drivers attend treatment sessions, undergo mandatory evaluations, and visit alcohol education programs.
Supporters of the law say it only applies to relatively minor offenders, which allows jails to free up space for criminals who commit more serious crimes.
According to Allegheny County officials, 550 people completed the program successfully in 2011, and 295 people completed the program in the first half of this year.
The program is only available to first-time offenders with 72-hour jail sentences who have limited or empty criminal records, proponents are quick to note.
Allegheny County is the only county in Pennsylvania to have such a program, but the projects’ modest success has prompted officials in Westmoreland County to consider passing similar legislation.
Of course, not everyone believes the program is a good idea. Critics of DUI Hotel say that it does not help prevent offenders from driving while intoxicated again.
In addition, the program is not available to everyone. Only those who can afford to pay to stay at the hotel for three nights are allowed to do the program. Offenders who cannot afford the hotel stay must go to jail instead.
According to George E. Saurman, a former state representative who loathes the law, allowing DUI offenders to “serve out their time in a hotel, rather than having the punishment imposed, is absolutely insane.”
Saurman also told sources that he couldn’t see “any motivation or justification for modifying the penalty” and claimed that sending DUI offenders to a three-day stay in a hotel is “inexcusable.”
Program participants, quite naturally, have a different view. Josh Lewis, a 22-year-old man who was about to start his hotel stay, told sources that the program can be “a little boring, but it beats jail.”
In addition, Ronald Seyko, the deputy director of the program, claims that the program allows drunk drivers to “meet their mandatory requirements and get their treatment education and reduce the burden on the system.”
By John Clark
The Washington state legislature enacted a new law this month that allows doctors to draw blood from people suspected of driving under the influence without their consent, according to a CBS News report.
The law has already started to face criticism from several groups, including those who believe the rule violates basic civil rights.
Before the new law was enacted, suspected drunk drivers in the state of Washington could choose whether they had a breathalyzer test or a blood test.
As might be expected, most drivers opted for the breath test because it’s less invasive than the blood test. For the breathalyzer test, DUI offenders only have to blow into a device. A blood test, on the other hand, involves a needle.
Now, however, some Washington drivers who are suspected of driving under the influence will be forced to take a blood test, because this exam is believed by many experts to be more reliable than its less invasive alternative.
Drivers who will be forced to take a blood test include those who are potentially facing felony DUI charges, and those who have previously been convicted of vehicular homicide or vehicular assault, sources say.
The law, understandably, has widespread support from local law enforcement officials. Sergeant Mike Eggleston recently described the procedure as a necessary tool to secure “special evidence” in certain extreme cases.
According to Eggleston, if someone is being charged with a felony DUI in Washington, it often means it will be his or her fifth DUI in the last decade, which he believes gives police the right to test the driver’s blood without his her permission.
Some local attorneys, however, believe the law could be the first in a series of overzealous laws that reduce the rights drivers have when they are arrested for a suspected DUI.
One attorney, for example, expressed concern that the law treats someone who has a DUI without an accident and someone who drives drunk and commits vehicular homicide as equals.
Another critic claims that it’s only a matter of time before the state legislature extends involuntary blood tests to all suspected drunk drivers, regardless of their criminal histories.
But while these critics have valid concerns, the Washington law as it currently stands, only applies to people who either have a chronic DUI problem or have committed a terrible crime.
With those restrictions in place, it seems that the benefits to public safety may outweigh the potential cost to civil rights, at least in the eyes of law enforcement officials.
By John Clark
Starting last week, Washington, D.C., rolled out a series of new DUI laws that are intended to reduce the alarming rates of drunk driving in Virginia and Maryland, according to a report from CBS News.
The District’s efforts to crack down on drunk driving mirror initiatives in many other states, as state legislatures have started to increase their focus on DUI prevention.
The first change to the capital’s DUI regulations is a shift in the legal blood alcohol limit for commercial drivers from .08 to .04 percent. This regulation, which also applies to taxi drivers, is very unique by national standards.
Representatives from the commercial driving industry have criticized the decision, claiming that if a blood alcohol limit of .04 is dangerous for commercial drivers, it should be dangerous for others drivers, as well.
Commercial drivers, however, typically have large loads of cargo, or are transferring passengers, so their legal responsibilities are much higher than average drivers, and the law should be adjusted to reflect this difference.
In addition to the reduction in the legal blood alcohol limit for some drivers, Washington, D.C., also strengthened its potential punishments for first time DUI offenders.
Sources say that people who are convicted for their first DUI offense are now eligible for a $1,000 fine and a 180-day stint in jail. Before the change, first time offenders were only eligible for a maximum $300 fine and 90-day jail sentence.
Of course, every drunk driver won’t receive this severe a punishment, but having such a large possible penalty could dissuade people who have had too much to drink from getting into their cars.
And, in addition to the possible deterrent effect, prosecutors will also be able to use the stiffer penalties as an incentive to get drunk drivers to plead guilty to lesser charges.
Another interesting change to the District’s DUI laws involves a shift in DUI procedure. This week, officers will once again be allowed to use breathalyzers during traffic stops.
D.C. police had been banned from using the tools for two years after an investigation discovered faulty calibrations in some of the DUI testing devices.
A final change to the capital’s DUI laws was a regulation that will add a mandatory week-long jail sentence for any person who is convicted of a DUI with a child in the vehicle.
Similar rules are becoming more popular in other states, as car safety advocates have highlighted the shockingly high number of children involved in DUI arrests.
Drunk drivers in Tennessee will now face a harsher penalty if they are arrested for a DUI with children in tow, thanks to a new DUI law that will become effective in a few weeks.
Under the new rule, DUI offenders who have children under the age of 18 in their car will be subject to a minimum 30-day sentence on top of their other charges, according to a report from The Expositor, a newspaper in Sparta, Tennessee.
The additional 30-day sentence will be automatically added to other drunk driving charges, such as a DUI, vehicular homicide, or vehicular assault.
The new law adds a substantial penalty to a crime that is already punished very seriously under Tennessee state law. And while DUI laws vary by state, Tennessee’s treatment of DUIs is very similar to other states across the country.
In the Volunteer State, for example, first-time DUI offenders face a fine up to $1,500, a suspended license for a year, 24 hours of jail time, and up to a year of probation.
Of course, not every offender will face the maximum penalties, but judges are allowed to level punishments this severe against people who are convicted for a DUI for the first time.
And second-time drunk drivers are treated much more harshly. For a second DUI arrest, offenders could face a $3,500 fine, a jail sentence of up to a year, and a license revocation lasting two years.
In addition, if drivers are arrested for their second DUI in five years, they have to install an ignition interlock device in their cars for six months. This devise measures drivers’ blood alcohol levels, and if they are too drunk to drive, the ignition interlock will prevent the car from starting.
So, since the maximum penalties for DUI offenses in Tennessee carry relatively short jail sentences, the addition of an extra month-long sentence is a significant change to the state’s DUI laws.
The law represents the state’s second effort this year to strengthen its DUI prevention laws. In May, state legislators passed a law allowing officers to draw blood from suspected drunk drivers, even if they refuse to submit to a blood alcohol test.
This law was met with heavy opposition from civil rights groups, but state lawmakers eventually passed the new rule despite these objections.
And as statistics continue to show an alarming number of annual deaths due to drunk drivers, states will continue to level more aggressive penalties against drunk drivers.
By John Clark
Several states have taken active measures to increase the severity of DUI laws in the past few years, but a proposed series of new regulations in New Jersey establish a new precedent for tough DUI enforcement, according to a report from the Newark Star-Ledger.
This week, the New Jersey Legislature will vote on a bill that would require all drivers convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol to install an ignition interlock device that would keep their cars from starting if they have been drinking.
In years past, these tools have only been used for people who have been convicted of multiple DUI offenses, but many states are now turning to ignition interlock systems for first-time DUI offenders, as well.
In New Jersey, for example, current DUI laws only require the installation of the Breathalyzer-like devices for people who have multiple DUI convictions, or for drivers who were arrested with a blood alcohol level at more than twice the legal limit.
While this law has been in place, roughly 2,500 ignition devices were installed, but if the new law is passed, this number could double in just 12 months, according to Frank Harris, a lobbyist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
In defense of the proposed law, Harris also said that “[r]equiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers provides multiple benefits to society (by) teaching offenders to drive sober which helps prevent repeat offenses and in turn saves lives.”
Harris also noted that the threat of a fine or license suspension does not deter drivers from driving intoxicated again.
In response, some critics of the bill claim that ignition interlock devices aren’t worth the expense, given that they typically cost drivers several hundred dollars, which can be a significant financial burden for many drivers.
John Bowman, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association, also told reporters that these devices don’t really help to deter first-time offenders because most of these drivers learn their lesson and refrain from driving drunk again.
But despite reservations from groups like the National Motorists Association, the national trend seems to be leaning towards the installation of ignition interlock systems for every convicted drunk driver, regardless of the nature of their offense.
In the last few years, sixteen states have enacted laws requiring these systems for all drunk drivers, and Missouri will soon become the seventeenth, according to sources. So the momentum seems to be swinging in favor of the proposed New Jersey bill.
Advocates of legalized marijuana use in Colorado found support from a surprising source last week after a conservative lawmaker voted against a proposed bill that would expand the list of DUI offenses to include the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
According to a report from The Colorado Statesman, Sen. Tim Neville, a Republican legislator from Littleton, Colorado, surprised observers when he was the only member of the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee to vote against the bill.
The DUI bill, Senate Bill 117, was ultimately passed by the committee after a marathon seven-hour debate. The bill will now begin making its way around the Colorado legislature, but it has already spurred heated debate in Colorado.
Under the terms of the proposed bill, Neville claims that legal medical marijuana users could face DUI prosecution even if they are not under the influence of marijuana at the time of their encounter with the police.
The bill suggests that marijuana users could be arrested for a DUI if they have a certain amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their blood. Critics of the proposed law, however, observe that it can take longer than four weeks for THC to completely remove itself from a user’s system.
Thus, since a law passed in 2000 allowed some patients to use marijuana for medical purposes, critics of the bill claim that some legal marijuana users could be unfairly arrested for a DUI, even if it has been weeks since they last smoked pot.
In Neville’s words, he voted against the bill because “it puts a number of law-abiding people, in my opinion, in harm’s way.” He also told The Colorado Statesmen that, from his perspective, the bill “makes them potential criminals for doing activities that are totally legal.”
Supporters of the bill, however, do not buy this argument. They observe that prosecutors could only charge drivers with a DUI if they have a blood content of 5 nanograms per millimeter or more of THC at the time of their arrest.
This level of marijuana, they argue, is more than a simple trace amount that could remain for weeks after smoking marijuana.
This argument, though, has no convinced the critics of the bill, many of whom lined up outside the Capital chambers last week to testify against the proposed legislation.
They claim that the science behind the bill is woefully inaccurate, and that the bill would pose a serious threat to the civil freedoms of legal marijuana users. These critics, though, face an uphill climb in their battle to change the legislature’s position on the bill.
A few weeks after the state’s House of Representatives passed a similar bill, the Virginia Senate recently voted 26-13 in favor of a proposed law that would require first-time DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock system installed in their cars.
Under current Virginia DUI law, ignition interlocks are only mandatory for people who have been convicted of more than one DUI offense, according to a report from Patch.com. This system matches the law that is in place in many other states.
The new bill, however, would require Virginia drivers who are arrested for their first DUI offense to have an ignition interlock installed, which represents a fairly strict rule for first-time DUI offenders.
Ignition interlocks, for those who have not had the unfortunate distinction of using them, require drivers to blow into a breathalyzer device before they are able to start the car. If the driver’s blood alcohol content is above .02, the ignition interlock will prevent the car from starting.
The Virginia bill’s journey towards becoming a law has not been easy, as this is the sixth straight year that the interlock ignition rule has been proposed in Virginia’s General Assembly.
According to Kurt Erickson, who serves as the president of the Washington Regional Alcoholic Program, “Virginia’s patience with the more than 29,000 drivers in the state annually convicted of driving under the influence has worn thin.”
Erickson’s point is well taken, particularly because data collected from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does show that almost 30,000 people were convicted for drunk driving offenses in Virginia in 2010.
In Erickson’s mind, ignition interlock devices help stop people from driving drunk. And, if the initial test doesn’t work, subsequent tests while the driver is operating his or her vehicle continue monitoring the driver’s blood alcohol level.
If the device determines that a driver is drunk while driving, the vehicle’s horn will start blowing, and the headlights will begin flashing to attract nearby police officers.
Of course, not every Virginian is excited about the proposed law. Some critics argue that the mandatory use of ignition interlock systems is overkill for first-time DUI offenders, many of whom will avoid drunk driving in the future.
Critics also argue that ignition interlock machines invade individual drivers’ privacy. This argument, however, was ignored by the Virginia Senate, which determined that the public benefit of ignition interlocks outweighs the loss of privacy suffered by individual drivers.
Legislators in Utah concerned about the loss of civil liberties have proposed a controversial bill that would ban the use of DUI checkpoints by police, according to a recent article in The Salt Lake Tribune.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in the Utah Legislature approved HB140, a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. David Butterfield, who argues that the use of checkpoints to catch drunk drivers are an ineffective way of catching dangerous drivers, and unfairly infringe on the civil liberties of Utah residents.
In response, law enforcement officials and opponents of drunk driving have argued that Utah should maintain its system of DUI checkpoints, which they claim helps pull many unsafe drivers off Utah streets.
Butterfield expected to meet strong resistance from many constituents, but he claims that the goals of law enforcement must be balanced by the protection of “constitutional and civil rights.”
To bolster his proposal that his state eliminate DUI checkpoints, Butterfield observes that eleven other states have already banned the practice, and more could soon make a similar decision in the name of civil liberties.
Butterfield also claims that so-called “saturation patrols”—a tactic that varies from checkpoints— generate more arrests than DUI checkpoints, and require fewer police officers. He suggests that these patrols should be used instead of checkpoints.
One police chief in Utah, however, claims that saturation patrols do net more arrests, but they are less effective at catching drivers before they become dangerous.
In his view, checkpoints that detect a drivers’ sobriety through simple visual cues and, in some cases, blood alcohol tests, are much more effective at stopping DUIs before they start.
In addition, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder says that many people were dying at dangerous canyons near Little Sahara and Lake Powell before police started setting up checkpoints at high-traffic times.
In Winder’s eyes, removing checkpoints from law enforcement’s arsenal of DUI prevention tools would not only reduce DUI arrests, it may result in more fatal accidents caused by drunk driving.
Further, Winder observes that the supreme courts of both Utah and the United States have ruled that DUI checkpoints are constitutional, which seems to undercut Butterfield’s argument to the contrary.
Regardless of whose argument will prevail, the bill still has many hurdles before it becomes a law. After passing the House committee by an 8-5 vote, the bill will now head to the full House for a vote.
Even if it passes the House, however, observers believe that it will face a hard time escaping the Utah Senate, which has historically been a strong proponent of aggressive DUI enforcement tactics.
Lawmakers in Georgia have proposed a bill that would allow defendants to have their DUI arrests expunged from their records after five years of good behavior.
The proposal, not surprisingly, has garnered plenty of criticism in the state, particularly from the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, according to a report from WSB TV.
Barry Martin, the executive director of Georgia’s chapter of MADD, says he was surprised that anyone would even propose such a bill, as it could reduce the deterrent effect offered by harsher DUI sentencing.
Supporters of the bill, however, argue that it will give people who were convicted of drunk driving a second chance, and that it will reward people who learn to drive responsibly after their arrests.
The bill, which is labeled House Bill 799, would allow evidence of a DUI to be “permanently expunged” and “completely removed” from the record of the person who was previously convicted, provided that he or she maintain a completely clean driving record for five years.
Such a strategy would reward drivers for good behavior after their convictions, and potentially help people who have a hard time securing a job due to their criminal record.
The bill, however, does not distinguish between first-time offenders and people who have been arrested for multiple DUI offenses, according to Martin.
In addition, Martin claims that the proposed DUI law does not distinguish between DUI arrests that do not involve an accident and those that involve injuries or fatalities.
By refusing to distinguish between the nature and number of DUI arrests experienced by one person, Martin claims, the government is putting itself at a disadvantage and may potentially be clearing the records of people who are dangerous to the community.
Georgia police also hint that removing past DUI arrests from a person’s record could hamper police investigations into drunk driving accidents.
However, despite the criticisms, supporters of the bill emphasize that a record of a DUI conviction can have a permanently negative influence on an individual, and that people who change their habits shouldn’t be punished their entire life for one offense.
The one-page bill raises interesting questions about the merits of privacy and forgiveness, and the alternative interests of the community as a whole to protect pedestrians and other drivers.
State lawmakers across the country will undoubtedly follow the progress of Georgia House Bill 799, as its passage could suggest shifting attitudes towards DUI punishment.
In a victory for deaf rights advocates, a judge In Washington state recently overturned a DUI charge leveled against a deaf man who had not had the aid of a sign language interpreter during his initial court appearance.
The ruling brings an end to five years of legal wrangling for 33-year-old William Kral, who had spent years appealing his past conviction on DUI charges despite the fact that he did not have a trained interpreter assisting him during his DUI arraignment.
According to a report from The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, the nightmare began for Kral in December 2005, when he was arrested in Benton County, Washington on suspicion of drunk driving and driving with a suspended license.
However, when the deaf man was arraigned after his arrest, the courtroom did not provide a properly trained interpreter. According to Kral, the interpreter told him a document was simply a continuance of the man’s case.
The document, however, waived Kral’s right to a speedy trial. Due to the miscommunication, Kral signed a piece of paper that severely limited his rights. As a result, Kral allegedly signed a paper waiving his constitutional right to a speedy trial without adequately understanding the nature of the document.
At the time, the court overlooked this disadvantage, and eventually found Kral guilty of driving drunk. Kral had to serve a nine-month prison sentence, which included three months in an alcohol treatment program, and had to pay more than $4,600 in fines.
Over the course of the next five years, Kral struggled through several appeals, in which he was aided by several different court-appointed attorneys.
Finally, in August, an appellate court ruled that Kral had been denied his constitutional rights when he was not provided with a properly trained translator. The judge sent the case back to the trial court for a reversal of the decision.
This final reversal occurred last week, when the trial court admitted its wrongdoing by throwing out Kral’s conviction and ordering that the state repay the $4,600 he had paid in fines.
Such an action, however, offers little solace for Kral, who cannot recover the nine months he spent behind bars. To make matters worse, Kral’s prison sentence forced him to lose his construction job and his girlfriend at the time.
In addition, despite Kral’s painful ordeal, the district court seems to have failed to learn its lesson. In the recent hearing, Kral had to provide his own professionally-trained interpreter because the court still did not offer one to deaf defendants.
Thus, while Kral won his individual battle, it came at a great personal cost, and it appears that the court has yet to change its discriminatory practices.
Nevertheless, Kral and his attorney hope that the decision will eventually help improve the experience of other deaf defendants in Washington courts.