What’s It Going To Take To Change Florida Drunk Driving Laws?

Florida drunk driving lawsMany changes to drunk driving law are motivated either by tragic crashes or the increasing presence of drunk drivers on the roads. That hasn’t been the case for Florida drunk driving laws. Despite both crashes and record numbers of drunk drivers, local lawmakers still haven’t passed an all-offender ignition interlock law.

That’s hard to believe considering what’s happening on the roads of Florida, especially with repeat drunk driving offenders. One recent case involved an offender with four Florida drunk driving convictions who crossed state lines into Mississippi and caused a crash there.

No one was hurt in the crash since he ran into a parked car, but when police caught him after he fled the scene they found he had four Florida drunk driving convictions on his record. In Florida you can be charged with felony DUI after you receive three DUIs in a 10 year period or you’re convicted of a fourth DUI. Felony DUI penalties in Florida include license suspension, stiff fines, and up to five years in prison, so why was this man out driving in Mississippi?

The problem isn’t just that he made the choice to drive on a suspended license, it’s that he managed to rack up four DUIs in Florida in the first place. Without an all offender ignition interlock law to prevent these drivers from continuing to get behind the wheel of a car, you can’t keep them from driving. And if you can’t keep them from driving, they are free and clear to drive drunk as much as they’d like.

Although there was an attempt at passing an all offender interlock law in Florida this past year, the proposed bill died before it could get the votes it needed to move to the Governor’s desk. You have to wonder why they seem to want to wait for a tragic crash or an increasing number of repeat offenders before they manage to change Florida drunk driving laws to include interlocks for all offenders.

Will Utah’s New Legal Blood Limit Mean Different Penalties?

Utah legal blood limitThe state of Utah ignited a firestorm of controversy when they changed the legal blood limit from the US standard of .08 to .05. Although the .05 blood limit is staying put, the penalty system that goes along with it is up for debate.

The law was only recently approved and signed by Governor Gary Herbert, and it was passed based on recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board that all states lower their legal blood limit to .05. The new blood limit will take effect in December 2018, but according to the Governor, changes to the law may be coming before then.

He announced that the Utah State Legislature will create a tiered system of penalties for anyone arrested for drunk driving in Utah, and that the state will stick to a “Colorado model” of strict to progressively harsher penalties based on blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of arrest.

The Colorado model of penalties includes DWAI (driving while ability impaired), a chargeable offense at the .05 BAC level, and DUI (driving under the influence), chargeable after .08. The difference between DWAI and DUI in Colorado is how severe the penalties are: a first time DWAI charge will give you eight points toward a driver’s license suspension and up to $500 in fines, but with a DUI you’ll lose your license and receive up to $1,000 in fines.

The sponsors of the Utah bill aren’t exactly on board with the idea of tiered penalties. That’s because the bottom line for this change to the legal blood limit was to save lives, and changing the penalties may result in more drunk drivers on the roads. Opponents of the new legal blood limit aren’t overly supportive of the tiered penalty system either: they’d rather see the entire law repealed before it comes into play in 2018.

It looks as if this law is going to cause Utah some growing pains. But just as there are bumps in the road for all positive changes, this could be a rough patch before the state finally adjusts to .05.

Should Bartenders Stop You From Getting Arrested For Drunk Driving?

arrested for drunk driving californiaIt’s a pretty common scenario: a person goes into a bar or pub and he or she has too much to drink. They make the decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle, and once they do, they crash the car or get stopped by police.

The issue that led up to the arrest was that they obviously drank too much alcohol. But who was responsible for the amount of alcohol they consumed? On one hand it’s the drinker, of course, but if a California bill passes, it may also be the responsibility of the bartenders and servers as well.

The bill was drafted in honor of two UCSD medical students, Annie Baldock and Madison Cornwell, who died in 2015 after a drunk driver drove the wrong way down a street and crashed into them. The driver had been drinking in a bar and both his friends and the bar staff had warned him not to get behind the wheel of his car, but no one stopped serving him alcohol and he drove anyway.

The bill passed through both the Assembly and the Senate, and it’s now on its way to the Governor’s desk. If it’s signed by the Governor, any bartender or server in California would receive mandatory training on alcohol responsibility, how not to overserve, what their legal obligations are to their employers, and how to spot other issues.

If California passes this bill into law it won’t be the first state to do so. Oregon also has a similar program for training bartenders and serving staff, and this can assist with the all too common issue of bartenders who are unaware of how many drinks they can serve before a patron should be cut off.

Along with passing a new ignition interlock law that will be in effect in the new year, this bill could stop more Californians from driving drunk and lower the rates of people arrested for drunk driving. Given the track record of the state right now, that would be good news.

Utah: Implied Consent Doesn’t Apply When You’re Unconscious.

Utah drunk driving What happens if you crash your vehicle, are taken to the hospital unconscious, and police suspect you of drunk driving? You know hospital personnel will take care of you when you’re awake and able to talk, and they’re also responsible for your care when you’re unconscious.

But a lot can happen when you’re not able to answer for yourself after a crash, and one Utah drunk driving case has cast a spotlight on the specific drunk driving laws that may come into play in situations like these.

By now everyone has seen the video of nurse Alex Wubbels refusing to allow blood to be drawn from her unconscious patient after a car crash. The police officer requesting the blood draw arrested her for refusing, and the video was uploaded online and went viral shortly after.

The dust has since settled on the case and the police officer responsible has been fired, but if you’re wondering why Wubbels refused to allow the police officer to draw blood and what responsibilities did the patient have to submit to testing, even if he was unconscious, the answer is fairly simple.

Supreme Court ruling on blood samples

This isn’t the first time the subject of blood draws without consent have come up in the United States. A case that went all the way to the Supreme Court ended with a ruling that a blood sample cannot be taken from a patient without consent or a warrant.

In this case the officer had neither a warrant or the patient’s consent, but what was on his side – he believed – was the patient’s implied consent.

Utah implied consent

What is implied consent? In Utah, just like in many other states, the very act of accepting a driver’s license means that you agree to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test should a police officer suspect you of drunk driving. That implied consent will apply if you’re pulled over by police, but experts weighing in on this Utah drunk driving case have said it doesn’t apply for a blood draw in the Alex Wubbels situation.

Only lawyers know how to interpret the specifics of Utah drunk driving laws, but it’s a good case for anyone to look at because it demonstrates the different ways implied consent can be interpreted in any state.

MADD Wants Stricter South Carolina DUI Penalties

south carolina dui penalties After a three-year study, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has come out hard against South Carolina DUI penalties. Long story short, the organization doesn’t believe they are harsh enough to deter drunk drivers, and that the increase in drunk and drugged drivers on the roads is due to the fact that it’s all too easy to avoid a DUI conviction in the state.

To compile the report MADD volunteers sat in on South Carolina DUI court cases, and they put together data that showed a few alarming issues:

Plea deals are a big part of South Carolina DUI cases

Pleading to a lesser offense or taking a deal in a DUI case means that some offenders are avoiding the penalties designed to stop them from drunk driving, and the biggest penalty they are avoiding are ignition interlocks.

Dash cams should be used as evidence

In South Carolina police use dash cams to record their interactions with a suspect, but that dash cam video won’t be used as evidence because there are too many issues with the technology. The program director of MADD South Carolina believes that dash cam recording laws should be changed to allow video evidence from these interactions to stand in a court of law.

South Carolina needs an all offender ignition interlock law

According to Emma’s Law, passed in 2014, any offender arrested with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 or higher will be required to use an interlock for six months. What South Carolina needs is an all offender law that ensures every offender, even someone convicted with a .08 BAC, is required to use an ignition interlock for at least one year.

MADD supports victims and the families of victims after a drunk driving crash, and after three years in various court rooms they would definitely have a good handle on what’s stopping the conviction of possible DUI suspects. South Carolina legislators would do well to take this study into account when making decisions on whether or not it’s time to revise South Carolina DUI penalties.

Why Didn’t Emma’s Law Stop More Drunk Drivers in South Carolina?

drunk driving regulations south carolinaFor a parent, there could be nothing worse than looking a photo of their child and realizing that you can no longer hug them, talk to them, or watch them grow up. But that’s the cold, hard reality for so many parents who have lost a child to drunk driving, and that’s why they stand up and fight for stronger drunk driving regulations like Emma’s Law.

Emma’s Law was named for Emma Longstreet. She was a six-year-old girl from Lexington County, South Carolina who was killed when a drunk driver crashed into her family’s vehicle on New Year’s Day 2012. The man who killed her was a repeat offender, and repeat offenders in the state weren’t required to use ignition interlocks at that time.

The Longstreet family, along with the South Carolina chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), brought Emma’s story to the state legislators and asked that South Carolina pass an all offender ignition interlock law. When Emma’s Law finally passed in 2014, every drunk driver, even first offenders, who are arrested with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .15 or higher will need to install an ignition interlock in any car they drive.

But according to MADD South Carolina, Emma’s Law is being sabotaged. They’ve released a report where they studied 832 DUI cases during the period of January 1st, 2016 to September 30th, 2016, and they discovered that legal loopholes and  the overall prosecution of DUI cases is much too difficult in the state. The result is plea deals for lesser charges, and when the offender isn’t charge with drunk driving, he or she gets to skip the ignition interlock penalty.

Having an offender skip the interlock penalty means they are free and clear to drink and drive again, and if a repeat offender isn’t restricted from driving, the end result could be the death of an innocent driver or passenger. That was the case for Emma Longstreet.

No parent wants to lose a child to a drunk driver, so it’s vital that South Carolina close their loopholes, tighten up their drunk driving regulations, and stop drunk driving offenders from skipping the interlock program.

Florida DUI Case Topic Of Supreme Court Challenge

Florida DUI caseA Florida DUI case will usually hit the docket within a few months of someone’s drunk driving arrest, but it’s not unheard of for a case to drag on for a year or more depending on how overburdened the court system is in the state.

It’s also not unheard of for someone arrested for drunk driving to contest their arrest, but one Florida DUI case may hit the record books for length of time it’s taken to contest a legal ruling. The defendant in this case is John Goodman, a Palm Beach County, Florida millionaire who was convicted of DUI manslaughter.

He was arrested for DUI on February 12th , 2010 after he ran a stop sign and crashed into the vehicle of Scott Patrick Wilson. Wilson was only 23 years old at the time, and the impact of the crash sent his vehicle into a nearby canal where he drowned.

When police took Goodman’s blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the crash, they found he was almost double the legal limit of .08. He was convicted of DUI manslaughter in 2012 and sentenced to 16 years in prison, but he remained free on bail pending his appeal. He finally went to jail in October 2014 after a judge reinstated his original prison sentence and required him to begin serving it immediately.

Goodman didn’t stop there. Because he believed there were specific problems with testing rules and procedures, he sought to exclude his blood-alcohol test results. He took his case to an administrative law judge, the Fourth District Court of Appeal, and now he’s taking it all the way to the Supreme Court of Florida.

He and his lawyers don’t believe implied consent should apply in a Florida DUI case. Implied consent is an understanding that, if you accept a driver’s license in your state, you agree to submit to blood, breath, or urine tests should a police officer suspect you of drunk driving. This type of testing is regulated for reliability, and that’s why these test results are able to stand up in court time and time again.

Will Goodman’s DUI case pass muster with the Supreme Court of Florida? Given that every other court has turned him down, his odds aren’t great. What this case will do is one of two things: establish that the court believes that implied consent is alive and well in Florida, or it will show the state of Florida they have more work to do when they process drunk drivers.

Pennsylvania Ignition Interlock Program Right For 1st Offenders

Pennsylvania ignition interlockIt’s decision time for first time drunk driving offenders in Pennsylvania. Will they choose the Pennsylvania ignition interlock program, or will they give up their driving privileges and wait out a lengthy driver’s license suspension?

If you are a first offender in Pennsylvania this probably isn’t a choice you’ll be excited about making, but if you were arrested with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .10 or higher, you’ll be required to decide now that Pennsylvania drunk driving laws have changed to allow these options.

On one hand you’ll have the Pennsylvania ignition interlock program. If you choose to plead guilty to your first DUI you’ll have the option of receiving a special driver’s license. That license will allow you to install and use an ignition interlock for a one year period, and that means you can take back your car keys and get on with your life. As long as you drive sober, you have free and clear access to your vehicle.

On the other hand, there’s the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program. This is a diversionary program that lets a first time DUI offender avoid conviction completely and have their record wiped clean if they accept a 30 to 60-day driver’s license suspension. With the diversionary program you will need to find alternate transportation for the time period, and if you’re caught driving your vehicle while suspended you’ll receive even more penalties.

It’s a choice that’s completely up to the offender, but when you weigh the pros and cons of completely giving up your vehicle and avoiding driving for one to three months, the freedom provided by the Pennsylvania ignition interlock program looks really appealing.

Time will tell what choices are made by first offenders in Pennsylvania, but when drivers weigh an interlock vs a driver’s license suspension, the interlock comes out ahead every time.

Colorado’s Felony Drunk Driving Law Now In Effect

Colorado felony drunk driving lawThere has been a lot of debate over whether or not a stint in prison is an effective way to stop a convicted drunk driver from driving under the influence again, and what works for some repeat offenders may not work for others. But spending time in prison could give that repeat offender time to consider the unwise choices they’ve made, and that’s why so many states are getting on board with harsher penalties including the passing of a felony drunk driving law.

In the case of a first offense, organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) would rather see the driver back on the road with an ignition interlock instead of spending a few days or a month in jail, but repeat offenders aren’t the same as first offenders. These are people who will drink and drive repeatedly, and they’ll do so whether they have a suspended driver’s license or they’re required to install an ignition interlock and they just don’t bother.

That’s why there are many states are passing felony drunk driving laws that require significant prison time for someone who drinks and drives three or four times, and Colorado is the latest state to pass a felony drunk driving law. It’s just taken effect as of August 5th, 2017.

Although there was prison time required for repeat offenders in Colorado, there was a loophole that let judges dictate the sentence. The end result was some people only received probation while others were sent off to serve long stretches.

With the new felony drunk driving law, a four-time repeat offender in Colorado must serve 90 to 180 days in jail if the judge decides to give them probation. There is also a work release program available, and if that is part of an offender’s sentence, they are required to serve 120 days up to two years in prison.

A felony drunk driving law has worked for other states, and time will show that it works for Colorado too.

Will Michigan’s Legal Blood Alcohol Limit Stay At .08?

michigan legal blood alcohol limitIt feels as though the legal blood alcohol limit (BAC) has been .08 forever, but most people don’t realize that it was only established in all states back in 2004. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was instrumental in helping states pass these BAC per se laws (laws in which having a certain alcohol level was illegal per se, rather than relying on proof of actual impairment), and although Delaware was the last state to pass a per se law, Michigan kept their options open by including a 10-year BAC sunset clause.

Michigan is the only state that has a BAC sunset clause, and the clause states that, if it expires before there is legislative action, the BAC will change from .08 to .10. The clause doesn’t come up often, and it’s only in the news right now because it was extended back in 2013 for a new expiry date of October 1st, 2018.

Now that the deadline is looming, Michigan lawmakers have proposed two new bills, House Bill 4547 and House Bill 4548, that would keep Michigan roads safer by eliminating the BAC sunset clause altogether and making the .08 BAC the permanent legal blood alcohol limit.

The thing to keep in mind is that these are just bills: they’re not passed yet, and they have to make their way through the House and the Senate before they are sent to the Governor for signature. There’s no guarantee that will happen.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while Michigan is debating returning to a .10 BAC, other states are dropping their BAC even lower. Utah just passed a law requiring the BAC in the state to be dropped to .05. If Michigan wants to go one step further, they could join in with Utah and other states who are considering following the National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) recommendation that all states drop their BAC to .05.

Let’s hope the Michigan bills pass and the BAC sunset clause will be eliminated. After all, it would be hard to justify raising your state legal blood alcohol limit to .10 when it’s clear that some states think .08 is too high.

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