Proposed West Virginia DUI Law for Third-Time Offenders Gets Thrown Behind Bars for at Least This Year
By: Mary Ann Pekara
Some West Virginia legislators have been trying to ease the DUI penalties for third time offenders in the state as a means to accommodate for overcrowded prisons but have ultimately been shot down so far this year.
A Charleston Daily Mail story detailed the efforts of Senator Dan Foster, who introduced a bill in the recent legislative session that would have revamped West Virginia DUI laws. Before languishing in the Judiciary Committee, Foster's proposed law for DUI in West Virginia would have mandated several measures.
- Instead of putting third-time West Virginia DUI offenders in prison, this proposed law would have sent them to jail for 30 days, mandated 96 hours of community service and fined them $750. A third-time conviction for a West Virginia DUI is currently considered a felony punishable by up to a year in prison.
- This proposed West Virginia DUI law for third-time offenders would have enhanced the DUI penalties for anyone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.16 or higher to an aggravated DUI. Current West Virginia DUI law sets the legal BAC limit at 0.08 percent.
- Under Foster's proposed West Virginia DUI law, offenders who were convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the state would have to install a breath alcohol ignition interlock device in their vehicles. In other words, these three-time offenders would have to blow into this device and pass its BAC test every time that they wanted to drive. If the driver is drunk, his or her car will not start with the installed ignition interlock device. The story added that this ignition interlock requirement may be included in future DUI legislation and ultimately be required for first-time offenders who would rather do this than have their driver's licenses revoked.
Ultimately, Foster was described in the story as saying that this proposed West Virginia DUI law failed because it was a tough sell, especially for members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) who allegedly won't accept anything but harsher penalties for people who are drunk driving.
Donna Hawkins, the executive director for the West Virginia chapter of MADD, was quoted in the story as saying that she would at least like to see current laws in the state for third-time offenders stay the same.
Foster said he's currently trying to get his bill looked at by the legislative interim committee for possible legislation for next year. He added that it's unclear whether dropping or raising DUI penalties for third-time convicted offenders is going to help them but opinioned that a more comprehensive approach is worth a shot.
Proposed West Virginia DUI Law Would Have Somewhat Alleviated Overcrowding in State Prisons
The Charleston Daily Mail detailed how this proposed West Virginia DUI law was one alternative to address current overcrowding problems in state prisons. Specifically, a 2006 report by the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said that putting repeat West Virginia DUI offenders in prison for long periods of time is not an effective means for rehabilitation.
The report rather suggested that repeat offenders be sentenced for up to three years in jail and undergo six months of intensive alcohol counseling rather than a lengthy prison stay. The report added that changing West Virginia third offense DUI law would remove 200 or more inmates from the crowded prisons.
With that said, Hawkins said that the West Virginia chapter of MADD realizes there is an overcrowding in state prisons but ultimately believes that DUI is a violent crime and should be treated as such. Hawkins added that the organization has its own task force that is working on a proposed West Virginia DUI law that it hopes to pass on to state lawmakers.