A judge in rural Ravalli County in northwestern Montana recently sent a message to a state that, among other notorieties, saw a local representative try to repeal DUI laws this year.
Judge James Haynes sentenced Scott Adams, a 40 year-old Montana resident, to 15 years in state prison after Adams was convicted of driving under the influence for the sixth time.
Adams, who lives in Stevensville, Montana, has previously received three probationary sentences for his drinking and driving habits. The judge revoked these sentences when he issued his final decree.
According to The Missoulian, Adams’ sixth DUI charge violated three probationary sentences stemming from previous drunk driving incidents.
The first sentence was due to a 2005 incident in which Adams was charged with seven different crimes after a drunk driving accident. He was eventually charged with a felony DUI—his fifth such offense—and received a five-year suspended sentence.
In 2005, Adams also completed a rehabilitation and treatment program.
This incident, however, came on the heels of a 2004 accident in which Adams received another felony DUI charge—his fourth such conviction.
This crime revoked a third probationary sentence he’d received in 1998 after being charged with felony burglary and forgery. This sentence, though, was reduced to misdemeanor theft after Adams agreed to a six-year probationary period.
This long history of criminal behavior came back to haunt Adams after DUI number six. Adams’ own probation officer stated in a report that Adams saw felony probation as “somewhat of a game.”
His probation officer also reported that Adams would not stop drinking and driving until he “hurts or kills someone.” Fortunately, it appears no one was injured in his latest binge, but the judge also felt that Adams posed a serious threat to others.
Adams must serve five years in prison for each of his last three felony DUI charges. In addition, he must serve a year in a detention center for the past theft charges.
The judge saw imprisonment as the only possible method to keep Adams off Montana’s highways.
The dangers of drunk driving have been a hot topic in Montana after a state representative made an impassioned plea earlier this year for the state to repeal its drunk driving laws.
He argued that DUI laws were preventing people from going to local drinking establishments, thereby hurting the local economy.
Alas, this idea never came to pass, but it did stir up some national press coverage, to the chagrin of many Montana residents.
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.
Reportedly, a Billings, Montana DUI suspect claimed a unicorn was driving when his truck crashed into a light pole.
Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos announced at a press conference, “that did not happen.” Paxinos attributed the mistake to “black humor” among prosecutors who routinely deal with drivers who refuse to take responsibility for their actions while DUI.
The driver, Phillip Carston Holliday Jr., told a judge that someone else was driving his car, which is sometimes called the unicorn defense by prosecutors.
Due to emails sent around the County Attorney’s office, the story got out that the defendant had told police that a unicorn was driving his truck; he had actually told police a woman was driving.
Of the driver, the County Attorney said “Mr. Holliday has other serious problems, but this is not one of them.”