Can vehicle ignition interlocks solve the DWI problem?

DWIMothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), on November 1, 2011, announced that it is urging the passage of the ROADS SAFE ACT (HR 2324/S 510) which would provide sixty million dollars in federal funding to finance the advanced alcohol detection research program known as DADDS. This technology is most commonly known as an “Ignition Interlock Device” or “IID.” These devices prevent the operation of a motor vehicle until the driver passes a blood alcohol test.

Anyone who is familiar with current IID technology will know that these gadgets are somewhat expensive, finicky, maintenance intensive and rather demeaning for drivers who are required to blow, hum and suck them repeatedly to start and continue to drive their cars. It is the sort of requirement that no one would ever tolerate unless they had no other choice. You can get a feel for how they work in this short video: Ignition Interlock Demo

So far, in Missouri, only repeat alcohol offenders are required to install the IID before they can get their licenses reinstated (after a long mandatory period when they are not allowed to drive at all). The IID must then be maintained for six months following the reinstatement date, and the driver is required to report to a certified IID vendor every month for maintenance to ensure the device is working properly.

MADD has a short term and a long term agenda. In the short term they want every legislature to force first-time DWI offenders to install the IID. In the long term (after the MADD ladies finish with the first-time offenders) they are coming after you and me, whether we drink and drive or not.

The purpose of the proposed federal sixty million dollar research program is to perfect a way to test the blood alcohol level of all drivers (not just drinkers), ideally without any need for their consent or cooperation. Understandably, researchers are looking for an involuntary test method to force compliance from the many drivers who do not esteem such nanny state initiatives.

Technologies being investigated include mounting cameras in cars to record and analyze a driver’s eye movements. Sensors may also be able to detect alcohol from air samples taken from the passenger compartment; or detect alcohol through a driver’s skin touching the steering wheel. They also discuss the possibility of requiring the driver to wear an arm or leg bracelet similar to those worn by criminal defendant’s under house arrest. Good luck with that idea. I can’t wait.

If the MADD ladies want an idea that really could save lives (without harassing the rest of us), here’s one:

Everybody now knows that if you get a DWI, you lose your license for anywhere between 30 days and ten years (or more). Supposedly, these license revocations are not to punish a DWI, but rather to safeguard the public. Punishment is a separate issue addressed by the criminal courts, not the license bureau.

Too often we read stories of drunk drivers who have an accident and hurt someone and it turns out that they were also driving while revoked. In those case, the license revocation or suspension did nothing to safeguard the public. It is hardly surprising to learn that many DWI offenders refuse to obey license revocations and drive anyway, especially when it means keeping a job and feeding their families.

If the ignition interlock device really is effective in stopping people from driving drunk, then the legislature already possesses the key to the problem. They would not even need to force people to use the IID. They could simply give the option of replacing the license revocation or suspension with the IID installation. Most defendants would take that deal if it meant they could keep driving. And then, even if they did drink, they would unable to harm anyone.

It’s not good enough to add the IID months or years after the offense occurs. It needs to be immediate to take away the temptation to drink and drive. Some may object because the state is not getting its “pound of flesh” from the offender, but any reasonable public policy will put public safety ahead of vengeance. It’s not often that the public good is best served by giving the bad guy a break, but this may be one of those times.


Come back with a warrant

Missouri legislature cracks down on DWI offenders.

Governor Nixon is expected to sign new legislation, HB 1694, which sharpens the teeth in Missouri’s DWI laws. The bill has multiple provisions:

  • Creates DWI court combining judicial supervision, drug testing, continuous alcohol monitoring, substance abuse traffic offender program compliance, and treatment of DWI court participants.
  • Minimum jail sentences are now mandated for first offenders whose blood alcohol content is above .15% unless they go through a DWI court. (minimum of 48 hours jail for being over .15% and 5 days jail for over .20%).
  • Minimum punishments for prior offenders are more than doubled unless the offender can attend DWI court. A serious question still remains about the availability of DWI courts because the bill provides no funding.
  • Search warrant procedures are simplified to allow everyday use of warrants to compel blood testing for suspected offenders.
  • The bill adds reporting requirements on all Missouri courts, but makes no provision for funding. The bill also singles out municipal judges for additional training, reporting and monitoring by the circuit court. There seems a resolve to make those local judges toe the line.
  • Two provisions were (deservedly) dropped from the legislation:

1)  One provision would have allowed police to take a blood sample from suspected drunk drivers and later apply for a warrant.

2)  The other dropped provision would have eliminated the section that currently allows a person with a single DWI offense to have the record expunged after ten years had passed.

Jefferson City Criminal attorney

One hopes that despite a complete lack of funding, the severity of the new law can be offset by incorporation of the DWI courts into the existing drug court structures.


New DWI laws could have “unintended consequences”

After the governor’s November DWI summit, we can expect new laws that promise to crack down on repeat DWI offenders. Oddly, the news reports seem to suggest a need–not for a crackdown on drunk drivers–but rather a crackdown on courts and prosecutors.

One of the biggest problems cited relates to the many arrested drivers who refuse to give a breath sample to determine their blood alcohol content. The law already requires a one year license revocation for such a refusal, but apparently prosecutors are being blamed for allowing DWI offenders to keep their licenses in exchange for guilty pleas on the underlying criminal offense.

Reports also cite prosecutors and judges giving probation to DWI offenders, thereby avoiding any conviction from appearing on a person’s record. This seemingly ignores recommendations of the federal goverment not to permit such practices.

Changes in the law may make it a crime to refuse to give a breath sample. Other changes could prevent prosecutors from plea deals which would keep a DWI from appearing in state and national databases. Another possible change is to make it a more serious crime to drive with a blood alcohol higher than .15% (the current level is .08%).

It turns out that some prosecutors are not enthusiastic about changing the law, citing unintended consequences of the new laws.

Prosecutors know that if their hands are tied by uncompromising rules, it will change the way they do business. This is because criminal cases do not always appear in black and white. Shades of grey are the norm.

When the prosecutors are prohibited from making reasonable compromises, fewer DWI charges will be filed. Either that or many cases will end up dismissed or lost at trial.

Look for a get-tough bill to be filed soon in the Missouri legislature.


Come back with a warrant

DWI: Giant fines and jail time, but no need for an attorney.

Spring in the Missouri legislature always sees the introduction of bills designed to prevent drunk driving.

In addition to the Drunk Driver Victims memorial signs discussed in an earlier post, here are a couple more:

Senator Wes Shoemyer’s Senate Bill 861, attempts to close what some consider a “loophole” in the DWI laws. Currently, some DWI-related convictions do not count toward “enhanced” punishment for persons accused of subsequent alcohol offenses, unless the defendant is represented by counsel or has waived the right to an attorney in writing.

This bill simply snips away the requirement that the defendant must have been “represented by or waived the right to an attorney in writing.”

This is one of those bills that tries to crackdown on DWI offenders, but in the end may backfire by permitting the courts to get sloppy about the constitutional right to an attorney. This would result in overturned convictions and would foul up repeat offender charges.

A written waiver of an attorney is a simple method to protect defendant’s rights (and the prosecutor’s conviction record). A written waiver in the file usually ends any controversy. By doing away with this requirement, Senate Bill 861 will create more problems than it solves.

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Senator Tom Dempsey’s Senate Bill 1053 doesn’t beat around the bush. In addition to jail, fines and license suspensions (click here for a complete list), this bill tacks on an additional–and mandatory–$1,000 fine on a first offense; $2,500 on any later offense.

I guess it follows that since poor people cannot possibly pay such fines, only rich folks will be able to afford DWI’s anymore!

As a practical matter, the courts will be helpless to deal with such mandatory fines, except to sentence everyone to jail and put them on probation with orders to pay the fine in 30 – 90 days. Then when half of them can’t pay, just throw them in jail.