Changes Abound Across the Nation

It appears that Washington is not the only state where DUI laws are being reviewed and rewritten to punish offenders.  For instance, Louisiana Legislators are considering a rewrite of state laws affecting operation of vehicles under the influence of alcohol and drugs that is endorsed by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The goal is to clarify laws that currently can be confusing.  For example, In Louisiana, you can have multiple third-offense convictions for drinking and driving and there’s no clear penalty. A first offense is often wiped off the books after completion of court-ordered conditions and sometimes a fourth-offense is reduced to a third offense.  One significant proposed change deals with underage driving under the influence. A driver under age 21 who is stopped for drunk driving is considered under the influence if a test indicates a blood alcohol level of .02. For anyone over 21, it’s .08.  Current Louisiana law says an underage first offender is subject to a fine of not less than $100 not more than $250, and the driver must participate in a court-approved substance abuse and driver training program. Under the proposed rewrite, the penalty would include the fine portion but also include jail time of not less than 10 days and not more than three months. The sentence could not be suspended unless the offender is placed on probation with a minimum 32 hours of court-appointed community service, at least half of which must be litter abatement.  Subsequent offenses carry stricter penalties, as it does with adult offenders.

Another example of the nation’s continued DUI ‘crackdown’ can be found in New York where the New York Legislature is considering three bills related to drunk driving. The bills are currently before the Assembly awaiting approval. The first bill pertains to those with multiple DUI convictions. The bill would make it so that if a driver who has three previous DUI convictions is involved in a crash with fatalities, the driver could be charged with vehicular homicide, rather than vehicular manslaughter. In New York Vehicular homicide is a Class B felony, carrying a potential penalty of 25 years in prison.  The second bill deals with drivers who leave scenes of accidents without reporting them. The bill would remove drivers’ ability to claim that they were too intoxicated to realize that they left the scenes of accidents. Leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury or death is a felony, and leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage is a misdemeanor.  The third bill the legislature is considering would amend the definition of what qualifies as intoxication for the purposes of a DUI charge. Current New York law defines intoxication as being impaired by alcohol. The bill would change it so that the definition of intoxication would be a state of mind that prevents a driver from safely operating a vehicle, no matter the substance that caused the state. The new definition would subject those who drove while taking pain medication or illegal drugs to DUI charges.

Finally, in Florida, changes to DUI law and enforcement are expected after the Tampa Bay Police Department announced its DUI review team’s findings.  A year after the Tampa Police Department was implicated in a DUI setup arrest of a Tampa lawyer, the Tampa Police Chief announced sweeping changes to DUI enforcement.  Among the changes outlined is a promise that the department’s DUI officers will conduct more thorough investigations and not rely on canned statements, such as “the driver had glassy eyes,” “slurred speech” or “the odor of alcohol.”  Many ideas for change came from a six-person team of local Tampa law enforcement and attorneys, which spent nearly four months reviewing all open cases of the two Tampa officers involved in the scandal, as well as about 50 other cases. They announced their findings on the one-year anniversary of the arrest of lawyer C. Philip Campbell, which prosecutors later concluded was a setup involving a rival law firm. High on its list of changes was a finding that DUI officers should conduct deeper investigations, interviewing witnesses and car passengers. In addition, the following changes were considered and will be implemented: All officers will complete a DUI training course online; three supervisors will review each DUI report; DUI officers will consider using additional field sobriety tests, including the finger-to-nose test, the Romberg alphabet — a plain, straightforward recitation — and the counting test; DUI officers should video record all their interactions with a driver, not just the field sobriety test; the DUI supervisor now has an in-car camera, like the officers; officers will include a suspect’s blood-alcohol content on the arrest report; the department will have bimonthly meetings with the State Attorney’s Office to discuss best practices, investigations and court cases.

Washington State DUI laws are some of the strictest laws in the nation. Pilot programs like the newly implemented 24/7 DUI Monitoring Program are making them even tougher. Hiring a Seattle DUI attorney to help can – at a minimum – reduce those penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their DUI charge. So it should go without saying that someone cited for DUI should hire a qualified Seattle DUI attorney as soon as possible. Driving Under the Influence charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with DUI in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle DUI lawyer.

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10.0Gregory Wayne Schwesinger
10.0Saad Qamer Qadri