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.
A recent ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court has proven controversial in the months following the decision as prosecutors have begun using it as a new weapon in DUI cases. Charges in DUI cases may be upgraded without evidence of a driver’s impairment at the time of the accident.
In April, the court ruled that drivers in fatal driving accidents could be found guilty of a felony if trace amounts of an illegal drug are found in their bodies.
The new ruling means prosecutors no longer have to prove that drugs contributed to a crash, simply that they were present in a driver’s system. In the original case, a felony conviction was upheld against a pickup truck driver showing traces of methamphetamine after he crashed and killed two people.
Just one month later, prosecutors in DuPage County used the Supreme Court’s ruling to upgrade a misdemeanor charge to felony aggravated DUI involving drugs. That upgrade changed the defendant’s possible sentencing from 12 months of jail time to three to 14 years in prison.
At least four prosecutions in Cook, DuPage and Kane counties have already applied the Supreme Court’s opinion, each involving alleged use of illegal drugs.
The new precedent has safety advocates applauding the decision, while defense lawyers suggest it may misinterpret the intent behind Illinois’ drunken-driving laws.
“What they’re saying is just because you used drugs in the past, even though you could be safe on the road at the present time, we don’t want you on our highways, and that’s questionable,” a Wheaton, Ill., DUI attorney told the Chicago Tribune.
Others concerned claim the decision may put prescription drug users at risk as the law applies to both illicit drugs and controlled substances. Drivers may be unaware of how long a drug can be detected in their system.
Prior to the court’s ruling, it was necessary to show impairment in a fatal drug-related crash, which was often difficult without a set standard such as the .08 blood alcohol limit for drunk driving.
The ruling grew out of a crash on Christmas Day 2004 when Aaron Martin, 24, left a Peoria bar in his pickup and missed a curve, hitting a car head-on and killing a 50-year old woman and her elderly mother. Trace amounts of methamphetamine were found in the driver’s urine, but no alcohol.
Martin was convicted of aggravated DUI involving drugs by a Peoria County jury, and the judge sentenced him to six years in prison. The conviction was overturned in August 2009 by a state appeals court, after prosecutors failed to show a causal relationship between the drugs and the driving accident.
The appellate decision was then overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court when the justices ruled “no causal connection” was needed due to Illinois’ longstanding zero-tolerance stance on drugged driving. The court’s opinion suggests the real crime is bad driving, which is why proof of impairment is not necessary.
Montana has a history of a DUI culture that is not as critical of drunk driving offenses as other parts of the country. Recently, the state’s efforts to curb drunk driving have led to more stringent policy.
Now, the state’s Attorney General, Steve Bullock, has proposed the expansion of a pilot program that calls for repeat drunk driving offenders to submit to regular breath tests during their sentence. The program is known as the 24/7 Sobriety Project.
The 24/7 Sobriety Project essentially requires that repeat DUI offenders stay sober all day and all night long, for the duration of their sentence. Whoever fails a breath test would be jailed and have their bond revoked. The idea originated in South Dakota.
Under the program, anyone who is arrested for DUI more than once must take a breath test that measures blood alcohol content twice a day, according to the Great Falls Tribune.
Expanded DUI prevention efforts would also include harsher penalties for those convicted of driving with a blood alcohol content that is higher than .15. Such measures are already in place in most states in the U.S. Such a charge, as proposed, would be an aggravated DUI charge.
In addition to the strengthened DUI laws above, Attorney General Bullock would like to make penalties for refusing a breath test more harsh than they currently are.
The proposals will need approval from the state legislature, which is controlled by the Republican party at the moment. Republican Representative Steve Lavin already plans to sponsor the bill.
Lavin is a sergeant in the state’s highway patrol. He argued that the bill wouldn’t cost anything because those who are required to take the tests would pay for the process themselves. “I just don’t see any opposition to it,” he told the Tribune. “I’ve talked to quite a few of my comrades, and they seem to like it.”
Attorney General Bullock hopes for the necessary political support. “I’m hopeful that all three of them end up with broad bi-partisan support,” he said of the three parts of his proposal for expanded DUI penalties and requirements. “This problem is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. I think these three (proposals) are great parts of what can be done.”
In the state of Montana, some believe that a culture of drunk driving and DUI arrests has become so ingrained in the community that only a community-wide change can lead to a decrease in DUI arrests and accidents.
In a recent DUI court case, a surprising number of those involved in the case had been affected by drunk driving, bringing to light the pervasiveness of DUI in Montana’s culture, even at the highest levels.
Greg Barkus, the defendant in a DUI case in Flathead County, Montana, was accused of operating a speedboat while under the influence of alcohol when he ran it into the shoreline.
According to the prosecution, his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit when the incident occurred. Barkus, a Republican state senator, had been arrested for drunk driving before.
Barkus’ DUI attorney in the case was a man who had himself been arrested for DUI before. The lawyer’s case was dismissed however, because the police officer who would’ve testified in the case was killed by a drunk driver.
In addition, the Barkus case prosecuter’s deputy attorney had a previous arrest for DUI, as did the ex-husband of the case’s original judge.
Across Montana, numerous judges, attorneys, lawmakers and celebrities around the state have faced DUI arrests. Public prominence seems to play no part in the demographic of those impacted by drunk driving.
While certainly many people across America have felt the impact of DUI arrests on friends, family and community, the Barkus case is a microscopic view of a larger problem.
Montana, which ranks among the highest in U.S. states in terms of the rate of alcohol-related vehicle accidents, has a culture of fierce independence, in which citizens are wary of giving up their personal rights.
DUI laws took longer to reach Montana, even as other states adopted them, and a colonel in the Montana Highway Patrol has stated that the prevalent culture in the state is to view drinking and driving as “Montana birthright.”
Advocates of tougher DUI laws in Montana argue that a reduction in DUI-related accidents ensure a more universal right: the right to safer roads. The only way, in their eyes, to solve the problem is to change the culture of drinking and driving in Montana, so that peer pressure and community awareness drive positive change where lawmaking may fall short.
In a surprising move, Colorado’s Governor Bill Ritter plans to divert more than $1.3 million intended to fight drunken driving to help fill the state’s budget gap estimated at $318 million.
A recent Denver Post article stated that the $1.3 million, which is raised by a surcharge imposed on everyone convicted of a DUI offense in Colorado, has been used to “pay overtime for cops working the ‘Heat Is On’ crackdowns on long holiday weekends.”
This is particularly relevant as the recent Labor Day Weekend statistics are being tabulated and due to be released shortly.
For Colorado, their planned campaign for Labor Day weekend was to be the last funded by those grants if the legislature approves Ritter’s plan, and as of Tuesday, Sept. 8th, the decision has yet to be made.
As of now, in Colorado everyone convicted of an alcohol- related traffic offense pays a $90 fine, roughly 1/3 of which goes to the Transportation Department to fund grants for DUI enforcement.
The money is then dispersed throughout the local law enforcement agencies. For 2009 a total of $1.4 million was available to 56 police and sheriff’s departments. Nearly $375,000 is expected to be left after the Labor Day enforcement campaign.
This being the money that Ritter reportedly froze in an executive order.
Larimer County sheriff’s Sgt. Gerald Baker, who is the head of the department’s traffic unit was quoted as saying, “It’s going to have an impact on our numbers, and it’s a little too early to say whether it’s going to have an impact on injury accidents or fatalities.”
In 2008, within the state of Colorado, nearly 40% of all DUI related traffic fatalities occurred within a 24 hour window of a holiday; the same time period which is now under jeopardy of losing heightened patrolling.
On August 13, New York Governor David Paterson submitted legislation to increase penalties for drivers convicted of DWI with children in the car.
The Child Passenger Protection Act would make drinking and driving a felony if there were passengers under the age of 16 in the car, according to a statement released by the Governor’s office.
Right now, New York DUI law treats the offense as a misdemeanor or traffic infraction. There are 35 states that have child endangerment laws, imposing higher DUI penalties for offenders who put a child at risk while drinking and driving.
The Governor’s proposed legislation is as follows:
- A DUI offender driving with a passenger under the age of 16 who is killed can be charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and receive five to 25 years in prison if convicted. The charge will be considered a Class B violent felony.
- DUI offenders driving with a passenger under the age of 16 who is seriously injured can be charged with aggravated vehicular assault and may receive three and a half to 15 years in prison if convicted. The charge will be considered a Class C violent felony.
- Individuals convicted of DUI with a passenger who is a child under the age of 16 may receive up to four years in prison. The charge is a Class E felony.
- If an individual is charged with DUI, with a blood alcohol level of .08% or more and there is a child passenger under 16, their driver’s license will automatically suspended, pending prosecution.
- A DUI offender convicted of drinking and driving with a child passenger will automatically lose their license for a year after a first DUI offense. If the offender has prior DUI convictions and the subsequent conviction is within 10 years of the first DUI, he or she will automatically lose their driver’s license for 18 months.
The new legislation proposed by the Governor follows a crash in Westchester County where eight people were killed, including four children.
Source: News Channel 34, WNYC
As of Sept. 1, people in Louisiana who refuse to take a breath test will have their driver’s license suspended for one year. The penalty is twice as long as the current penalty for breathalyzer refusal.
“Now … it’s worse if you refuse the test,” said DWI attorney Robert Fleming.
Under Louisiana DUI law, a driver who refuses a blood alcohol test on a first DUI offense will have his or her driver’s license suspended for six months and 18 months for a second refusal.
The new law that Gov. Bobby Jindal signed on June 1 doubles the first offense penalty and suspends the offender’s license for two years on a subsequent offense.
Supporters of the new DUI law feel that it will give drivers the incentive to cooperate with police during a DUI stop.
Many supporters say that currently the common thought among many DUI offenders in Louisiana is to refuse the breathalyzer test.
“The problem was that drivers were refusing to take the test” on the advice of DUI attorneys, said Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick Jr.
According to Donna Tate, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Louisiana has one of the highest refusal rates in the country. In 2005, 39% of drivers pulled over for drinking and driving refused a breathalyzer, when the national average was 22.4%.
There could be some big changes in the DUI laws in Oregon and Rhode Island. The legislatures in both states are considering amendments to the current laws, and, though nothing has been passed yet, you should be aware of the potential changes.
In Oregon, current DUI law makes it difficult to remove a DUI offense from your record, even if the charges were later dropped, lessened or acquitted.
The new law would make it easier to clear your DUI records if you aren’t convicted of the crime.
In Rhode Island, the new law would give police greater power to request and obtain search warrants in order to draw blood from DUI suspects in order to perform a DUI blood alcohol content test.
The law would only apply to DUI cases where an auto accident is involved.
Illinois Law Allows License Suspensions without DUI
Illinois has a new alcohol-related law that has led to more than 3,000 teenagers losing their driver’s licenses this year. The teens were not accused of DUI, but the “use-lose” law allows for driver’s license suspensions for those caught underage drinking.
The state law was passed after five teens died last year in an alcohol-related crash. Underage drinkers in Illinois may have their driver’s licenses suspended without any involvement with a car or driving…
State Law Provides Illinois DUI Memorial Signs
Under a new Illinois DUI law, memorial signs for those killed in drunken driving accidents may be requested by the victims’ families. A sign with Caitlin’s name and the date of the accident that took her life was the first to be requested under “Tina’s Law.” The law is named for Tina Ball, a construction worker with seven children who was killed by a drunken driver while working on I-57 during September 2003. Read more.
Study Shows Felony Wisconsin DUI Offenders are Avoiding Prison
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that lawmakers intended to get repeat Wisconsin OWI (DUI) offenders off the road. However, an analysis of Wisconsin DUI sentencing has shown that less than half of the people who are sentenced for fifth-offense drunken-driving in Milwaukee County end up serving time in prison. View the full article.
Drug Testing Drivers Could Become as Simple as Breath Tests
The National Institute of Health has recently released research guidelines that may lead to the development of new testing methods for drug abuse that can be used as routinely as breath tests. These guidelines were published in the August journal Addiction. Read on.
Homework Assignment Inspires DUI Bill
According to a report by the Bulletin, Paul Clymer has introduced legislation that would require mandatory ignition interlock devices for all DUI offenders.
Clymer’s idea for the new legislation came from a 14-year-old boy.
Read more about how the high school sophomore’s homework assignment turned into a purposed DUI law.
The Case for Tougher DUI Penalties
A case involving a Kansas DUI arrest has Kansas residents demanding a change in the state’s DUI law and insisting on stiffer DUI penalties for repeat offenders.
Find out what these tougher laws would mean for people with a DUI conviction.
Ohio judges violate DUI law
Under a 2004 Ohio law, drivers with multiple DUI convictions who still need to drive under provisional driver’s licenses are required to have special DUI license plates assigned to their vehicles.
The DUI law mandates that judges order the DUI license plates.
Approximately 33,000 drivers in Ohio have five or more DUI convictions, only 8,500 vehicles in the entire state had been issued the special DUI license plates as of the end of last year.
ACLU Says Challenges to Ohio’s No Refusal Law Likely
Under the new Ohio DUI law, drivers who have had two or more DUI convictions can be forced by authorities to submit to a blood or urine test to determine their blood alcohol content.
Previously, the law had required that authorities obtain a search warrant from a judge to test a DUI suspect’s blood or urine in situations where no consent was given.
Civil liberties advocates are speaking out about the new DUI law in Ohio, saying that they believe it is unconstitutional.
Find out more about the debate on this new law.
Utah’s Fruitless New Liquor Law
Utah lawmakers have been at it again. The state already has some of the strangest and strictest liquor sales laws in the country, but apparently legislators still felt that there was some tinkering to be done.
Now Utah has become the first state to ban some fruity alcoholic drink sales.
Read the full article.
Party Bus Driver Playing Police or Parent?
And with this time of the year comes pumpkin carving, sweaters and Homecoming – a quasi-holiday for schools that runs from September to November.
Students can’t wait for festivities, which usually mean an early dismissal for a pep rally, parade, football game and dance.
Maybe you or some of your friends drank after the dance – or maybe even before the dance. You were all underage and alcohol is prohibited on school property, but that was a part of the Homecoming ritual – no big deal.
Except for some teenagers in Highland Park, IL, underage drinking became a big deal.
Read more about the controversey here.
Arizona governor Janet Napolitano signed into effect another new chapter in what is becoming one of the country’s toughest set of DUI laws.
State legislators passed a bill that would increase penalties for first DUI offenders convicted of “extreme DUI,” or a DUI with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15% or higher (roughly double the legal limit of 0.08%).
Now, “extreme” DUI offenders would serve a full 30 days in jail, an increase from the current 10-day minimum.
Lea Anna Cooper suggests, on the American Chronicle Web site, that Kiefer Sutherland may face double jeopardy when tried for his recent DUI charges. Her claim of double jeopardy is simply a misunderstanding of DUI law.
Sutherland, star of the controversial hit show “24,” was arrested in September and charged with driving with a blood alcohol level (BAC) above 0.08 percent and driving under the influence.
Cooper asserts that the two charges against Sutherland would amount to “double jeopardy.” Strangely, Cooper also reprints portions of a California criminal case that explains how she misunderstands DUI law, People v. Cosko, 152 Cal. App. 3d 54, 199 Cal. Rptr. 289 (1984).
As Cosko explains, Sutherland has been charged with two crimes; one is a “lesser included offense” of the other. In other words, the charge of driving with a BAC above 0.08 percent includes the elements of the misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence plus the element of having a blood alcohol level above 0.08 percent.
Cosko points out that a prosecutor has the right to charge a defendant with a crime and lesser included offenses to assure that she gets a conviction. A court cannot, however, actually convict a defendant of both the charged offense and the lesser included offenses.
Sutherland does actually face revocation of his probation stemming from his plea to driving under the influence in 2004. He was sentenced to 60 months probation and could now face up to 18 months in jail for violating his probation. However, it is very unlikely he will see any more than the 96 hours in jail required under California DUI law.