The Kansas House Passes Some Schizoid Drinking Bills

jekyll-and-hyde-kansas-alcohol-lawsThe Kansas House of Representatives recently passed two bills regarding alcohol. The bills might not be designed to achieve opposite goals, but that’s effectively what they’re doing.

One bill would increase penalties for habitual drunk drivers who are judged guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

The bill was passed in the wake of a tragic crash in which a 24-year-old woman, Caitlin Vogel, was killed by a repeat drunk driver who had several prior offenses. The offender, James McAllister, was sentenced to less than 10 years in prison, a fate which enraged Vogel’s family and friends. The new bill is an attempt to fix what was regarded as too-soft treatment of persistent drunk drivers who harm or kill.

The other law has the no-doubt unintended effect of increasing drunk driving. It allows restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 6 a.m. rather than 9, as is currently allowed. The reasoning is that Kansas is losing breakfast and brunch business to surrounding states.

A Jekyll-and-Hyde View of Drunk Driving

Taken together, the bills reflect a strange split-personality view of drunk driving. On the one hand, the practice of serving alcohol in restaurants at 6 a.m. does not seem to suggest an increase in drunk driving to the Kansas legislators who voted for that bill. Experts would disagree. A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine states unequivocally that “state and local governments should take appropriate steps to limit or reduce alcohol availability, including … the days and hours of alcohol sales.”  This is one of several strategies for reducing drunk driving in the US. Others include more taxes on alcohol, ignition interlocks, and a lower blood alcohol concentration limit.

On the other hand, those who actually drink and drive should be severely punished – but the bill only addresses those who are already repeat offenders and who do serious harm. This is the extreme end of the spectrum. There’s a good case for strong punishments for those who kill while driving drunk, but mainly to take such dangerous offenders off the roads. It’s doubtful that other drivers will learn of the extreme punishment of a DUI killer and decide not to have that extra beer before getting behind the wheel. In other words, the DUI manslaughter bill will probably not reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road by more than one.

Meanwhile, selling alcohol at 6 a.m. might put a few more on the road.

Kansas legislators need to read the reports by the National Academies, MADD, the NTSB, NHTSA, and other safety organizations. All of them recommend a well-administered all-offender ignition interlock program, more restricted alcohol sales, and prevention wherever possible. Boosting liquor sales and then coming down hard on DUI killers isn’t a strategy that works.

Easing Up On Kansas Drunk Driving Offenders Isn’t A Great Idea

Kansas drunk driving lawsIn the hands of a drunk driver, a vehicle is a dangerous weapon. Ignition interlocks are the one proven way to take away the choice a drunk driver makes to drive their vehicle, and organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the National Safety Council (NSC) have all stood up in support of the devices. That’s why it’s so surprising that Kansas drunk driving laws may change to ease up interlock restrictions for first-time offenders.

A bill that’s currently in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee would actually change Kansas drunk driving laws to allow a first time driving under the influence (DUI) offender the option to not drive during the suspension or install the ignition interlock. The lawmaker behind the bill, Sen. David Haley, said that there are a lot of first time offenders who choose to wait out their suspension but when it’s over are told that they must install an ignition interlock anyway.

Kansas drunk driving laws currently state that a first time offender who is arrested with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.08 is required to spend forty eight hours in jail or serve one hundred hours of community service. That offender will pay up to $500 in fines, and receive a thirty day driver’s license suspension that will also be restricted for an additional 330 days follow that initial suspension. You can even have your car impounded for one full year after arrest.

A first time Kansas drunk driving offender is required to install an ignition interlock device for 330 days. In the grand scheme of drunk driving laws across the United States, that’s not the stiffest time frame you’ll find for ignition interlock penalties. If Kansas drunk driving laws change to give first offenders an option to not install an interlock, they will essentially get a free pass and are free and clear to make the choice to drink and drive again.

That’s not a great idea in terms of road safety and saving lives, so let’s hope that lawmakers do the right thing by not lifting the ignition interlock restriction for Kansas drunk driving offenders.

Kansas Drunk Driving Laws State No DUI On Lawnmowers

kansas drunk driving laws ride on lawnmower “Is that a beer on your mower?” isn’t a sentence you hear every day. For police officers, it’s something they have to say more often than you think.

Case in point? A man violated Kansas drunk driving laws when he decided to take his lawnmower out for a spin while drunk. According to the offender he’d went to visit his son while driving his lawnmower and he’d had five beer and some shots of hard alcohol before he decided to drive home. That’s when police pulled up beside him and asked him if he’d been drinking.

The offender didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but when the police pulled out the breathalyzer, things got serious fast. With a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .180, he was twice the legal limit of .08 and, much to his surprise, was about to be arrested for his second Kansas drunk driving charge.

He did try to argue his way out of it, basing his argument on the fact that you don’t have to insure a lawnmower so it shouldn’t be considered a vehicle, but his argument fell flat. According to Kansas drunk driving laws, you can be charged for drunk driving on any device that a person or property can be transported on. That includes ride on lawnmowers, carriages, or even your pet horse.

When the offender went to court his driving under the influence (DUI) charge was dismissed. What wasn’t dismissed so easily was his driver’s license suspension, and the Kansas Department of Revenue told a news outlet that they don’t have to dismiss a driver’s license suspension just because a criminal charge of DUI is dismissed. If they have evidence that someone is driving impaired, they can suspend for the license for a set amount of time.

Once this offender receives his driver’s license back, he’ll also be required to install an ignition interlock in any vehicle he drives. That means his lawn mowing days are behind him for awhile, because you can’t install an ignition interlock on a lawnmower.

All in all, this offender got off fairly easy. With Kansas drunk driving laws requiring five days up to one year in jail for second offenses and $1,750 in fines, he should happily take the suspension and interlock and move on with his life. As for his lawn, hopefully he finds someone else to help him cut it.

You Can Refuse The Breathalyzer In Kansas

refuse the breathalyzerWhen you’re arrested for drunk driving in Kansas you have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to flat out refuse the breathalyzer test when asked to take one. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

Most states have an implied consent law, meaning if you accept a driver’s license in the state and operate a motor vehicle, you automatically agree to submit to breath or blood tests if an officer of the law suspects you of drunk driving. Kansas made it a criminal offense to refuse the breathalyzer, and that offense carried up to six months in jail, fines up to $1,000, and the exact same one year driver’s license suspension someone convicted of drunk driving would receive.

After four separate cases challenging the law, the Kansas Supreme Court has struck it down with a vote of 6-1. The court ruled that forcing a driver to submit to a breathalyzer violates a drivers’ Fourth Amendment right to unreasonable search and seizures, and an individual has the right to withdraw consent.

How will this ruling affect drunk driving cases in the state? Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) released a statement saying that the decision was a loophole for Kansas drunk drivers. The organization is supportive of any tool law enforcement can use to keep drunk drivers off the roads, and one of those tools is the breathalyzer.

The real problem is not just how it will affect drunk drivers in Kansas, but how the ruling will affect drunk drivers across the United States?  If one state Supreme Court can strike down an implied consent law and rule it unconstitutional, this could set a precedent for other states. Any state with criminal refusal charges could see people jumping on board to seek out a ruling against their own laws.

If that happens, soon everyone will have the option to refuse the breathalyzer, and that’s not going to help stop drunk drivers.

Kansas Needs DUI Reform, And They Need It In A Hurry

kansas-dui-lawsSome news stories really make you stop and wonder exactly what’s going on in the world, or at least that’s the case in Kansas. One man was recently convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) and sentenced to one year in jail. That’s keeping in line with other DUI laws across the United States, but the kicker comes when you hear how many previous DUIs this man has on his record.

Stephen Gast was sentenced to one year in county jail after receiving a conviction for his 17th DUI. Yes, you read that right—he was convicted 16 times previously, and has had a DUI track record since 1980.

The reason he is getting off so lightly when it comes to his jail time? Kansas DUI law is fairly strict up until you become a 5 time or more repeat offender. A first DUI offense in Kansas will net you a minimum of 48 hours in jail, fines up to $1,000, and a 30 day drivers license suspension. For someone who is a 4 time repeat DUI offender, he or she will receive 180 days up to 1 year in jail, $2,500 minimum fines, 1 year drivers license suspension, and a mandatory ignition interlock device in any vehicle the offender drives.

That’s a fairly strict punishment, but when you receive more than 5 DUI convictions, the penalties stay exactly the same. After that 5th DUI, your penalties in Kansas are exactly the same as if you were a 5-time offender. That’s why Gast, with 17 DUIs on record, only received one year in jail.

Given the light sentence, it’s good news that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has stepped up and begun pushing for DUI reform in the state. They’d like to see DUI offenders like Gast to have a mandatory lifetime ignition interlock installation and would like to require repeat offenders to serve stricter jail terms.

If there are more people like Gast in Kansas, the state really does need to step up its DUI laws. It shouldn’t take a crash to stop someone who has driven drunk 17 times.

Ignition Interlock And DUI Laws in Kansas

ignition interlock In 2014, Kansas lawmakers struck a blow against driving under the influence (DUI) in their state by removing the sunset date on their ignition interlock law. The sunset date, otherwise known as an end date for laws, was due to occur in 2015. Now that legislators have ensured that the all offender ignition interlock is permanent, they’ve also put comprehensive DUI laws into place so drunk driving deaths continue to drop.

If you refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test after a police officer suspects you of drinking and driving, you’ll receive swift and immediate penalties. The first time you refuse a breathalyzer, you’ll have your driver’s license suspended for one year and. At the end of that suspension, you’ll be required to install an ignition interlock device for one year. If it’s your second breathalyzer refusal, you’ll have your license suspended for 2 years and you’ll have to drive with an ignition interlock for 2 years after.

When you’ve been stopped drinking and driving in Kansas and you’re a first time DUI offender, you will receive the following penalties:

  • $500 to $1,000 in fines
  • 48 hours up to 100 hours of community service
  • Driver’s license suspension of 30 days
  • After your 30-day driver’s license suspension, you’ll be required to install an ignition interlock device for 330 days.

Second time DUI offenders in Kansas will receive penalties including:

  • $1,000 to $1,500 in fines
  • Jail time of 90 days to one year
  • 1 year driver’s license suspension
  • An ignition interlock device will be required for one year after suspension

Thanks to harsh DUI laws and the all offender ignition interlock program, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has estimated that drunk driving deaths have dropped by 23% since 2011. Clearly what the state of Kansas is doing is working, and others states without all offender ignition interlock laws should look to them as an example of how to crack down on drunk drivers.

Victims Stand Up And Ask For Stronger DUI Laws In Kansas

interlock deviceWhen a drunk driver hit Mija Stockman on December 20th, 2013, her life changed in an instant. The mother of 3 suffered from traumatic brain injury with severe physical trauma, and a year later, still has limited mobility and undergoes physical therapy 100 miles away from her house. She’ll require 24-hour care by a nurse when she does return home.

The driver who hit her, Jeffrey Paul Davis, had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .18 at the time of the crash. That’s over double the legal limit, and he was charged with aggravated battery while driving under the influence (DUI). It wasn’t his first DUI either – a resident of California, this is Davis’ 3rd arrest for driving under the influence, but it looks like he’ll be spending less than 2 years in jail for severely injuring Ms.Stockman in the crash.

Why such a light sentence for a drunk driver who caused life long injuries? And why was a third time DUI offender driving without an ignition interlock device? It all comes down to the strength of Kansas DUI laws.

Although the details of Mr.Davis’ previous DUI convictions are not known, a third DUI conviction in Kansas is a felony offense with penalties of up to one year in jail, fines ranging from $1,500 to $2,500 and a mandatory license suspension of one year. Kansas also has interlock device laws requiring a second, third, or fourth DUI offender to install an interlock device for a period of only one year.

Some states require ignition interlock devices for at least 7 years for 2nd conviction and up to 10 years upon a third conviction, so Kansas interlock laws and DUI definitely need to be brought up to speed. That’s where the Stockman family and local lawmakers come in. They’d like to start toughening up Kansas DUI laws by passing a bill called Mija’s Law.

Mija’s Law will ask for changes in a section of Kansas DUI laws that deal with great bodily harm and disfigurement inflicted by DUI. If passed, a longer prison sentence will be required and the felony level will be increased for any drunk drivers in crashes like the Mija Stockman crash.

Drunk driving crashes cause life changing injuries and death every single day in the United States. Maybe if they toughen up DUI and interlock device laws in Kansas, the state will see a drop in their DUI crash rate.

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