Indiana Senate Bill 168 Would Change How DWI Cases are Prosecuted

A new Senate bill in Indiana, Senate bill 168, has the potential to change how all drunk driving cases are tried in Indiana. The proposal came about after former IMPD officer David Bisard ran over three motorcyclists on his way to serve a warrant, seriously injuring two of the motorcyclists and killing one. Officer Bisard had an alcohol level which was three times the legal limit at .19%. However, his blood was taken by a medical assistant at a medical clinic, which is a violation of the current DWI Indiana law, which stipulates that lab techs must be certified to do work for a criminal case. Prosecutors dropped the charges against Bisard because the test results would not be admissible in court.

Based on the results of Bisard’s blood draw, he had been charged with seven felony counts of drunk driving and reckless homicide; he was also charged with a Class B felony count of DWI causing death with a blood alcohol level above 0.15% which carries a penalty of 6 to 20 years in prison. Bisard still faced one of the original charges of reckless homicide.

On September 4, Mayor Greg Ballard announces that new alcohol polices would be instated, such as requiring mandatory breath tests after any crash that involved a squad car.

Senate Bill 168 has only one change to DWI laws. It simply says, “Any other person qualified through training, experience, or education to obtain a bodily substance sample” and can have it used in court. The author of the bill, State Senator Randy Head, said, “What I’m trying to do is take a situation that maybe wasn’t as well thought out as it should’ve been and allow anyone who’s been trained to do the work that they are allowed to do.” The DWI bill must pass in January or early February and would go into effect July 1, 2013.

Bexar County DA Pushes For Texas Law which Requires Bars to Carry Non-Alcoholic Beverages

Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed is encouraging Texas lawmakers to require bars and restaurants to carry non-alcoholic beverages. She hopes the access to non-alcoholic beverages will reduce the number of drunk driving in San Antonio. The DA’s office is going to find a sponsor for their bill for when the Texas legislature assembles next week. Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg said, “Is this a cure-all? No. It’s not a cure-all to driving while intoxicated, but it is something that we hope will encourage people to drink responsibly.”

Highlander bar owner Mike Specia believes non-alcoholic beverages will just collect dust, and said he feels “its just the idea of the government, you know, getting into my business, which, which I have a problem with.”

Bexar County is active in DWI legislation, and for more than a year the entire county has a 24/7 no-refusal policy. The no-refusal policy means that someone who is arrested for driving while intoxicated is required to provide a specimen of blood or breath at the request of the officer in order to investigate that person’s blood alcohol levels. A search warrant may be produced in order to obtain a person’s blood or breath sample.

Since the “No Refusal” initiative marked a year on Sept. 30, 2012, Bexar County had 6,987 DWI arrests, and blood draws were taken in 3,298 of those cases. The “No Refusal” grant for 2013 began on October 1, 2012, and to date Bexar County has already made 1,336 DWI arrests, with 614 blood draws in those cases. There has been 1 intoxication manslaughter, 9 intoxication assualts, 23 incidents of DWI with child passenger, 123 DWI 3rd offense arrests, 185 DWI 2nd offense arrests, and 993 DWI 1st offense arrests.

New Mexico May Soon See Tougher DWI Laws

Gov. Susana Martinez’s office met with a young Colorado couple whose unborn son was killed in a drunk driving accident. The couple are working with the Governor’s office in hopes that the Legislature will pass Dimitri’s Law, a bill named after their son, which seeks to make the penalties for first and second DWI convictions much harsher.

The potential bill began when more than 2,700 people signed the Justice for Dimitri Petition which has signatures from people across the nation. At the next legislative session, Zach and Aileen Smith, Dimitri’s parents, will present the petition and the bill to New Mexico lawmakers. The Smiths say that penalties need to be tough on first and second DWIs, not on the fourth and eighth DWI.

The Smiths believe that a first DWI conviction should result in the driver’s vehicle being impounded, and that it stay impounded until an interlock device is installed on the vehicle. Even though New Mexico is one of a handful of states in the nation that require an ignition interlock device for a first DWI offense, some believe that this requirement is not being monitored or enforced appropriately.

Austin Police Department Announces DWI Crackdown for the Holidays

Austin Police Department has announced that anyone who is stopped by police this month will also be given a flyer warning people of the dangers of drunk driving. Austin law enforcement agencies were urging citizens to drive safely this holiday season and were joined by the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Travis County Attorney’s Office, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The holiday seasons have upticks in DWI arrests and alcohol-related driving fatalities.

Officials urged drivers to be responsible and to adhere to a strict policy of no alcohol for drivers. “The goal is to plan ahead. Have a designated driver,” Robbie Barrera with the Department of Public Safety said. “A designated driver isn’t the person at the party that’s had the least amount of alcohol. A designated driver is the person that’s had no amount of alcohol.”

The city of Austin has had 74 traffic fatalities this year, and 60% have involved alcohol.

DPS is boosting patrols between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1. There will be increased staffing and patrols will be working overtime especially on holiday days themselves such as Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.

The flyer that is being handed out to people who are stopped by police details the deaths of Mayra Vega, 18, and Emmanuel Hernandez, 16, Travis High School Students who were killed by a drunk driver in 2006.

Changes to North Carolina DWI Laws 2012, Laura’s Law Goes Into Effect

Laura’s Law went into effect on Dec. 1, 2012, months after the new DWI legislation was originally signed into law in 2011. North Carolina’s new legislation expands the sanctions and monitoring requirements of repeat drunk drivers.

The law is named after Laura Fortenberry, a 17-year-old who was killed when a three-time convicted drunk driver slammed head-on into the car she was riding in. The 28-year-old drunk driver, Howard Pasour, had three prior DWI convictions.

State lawmakers can now integrate Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) into both pretrial and probation requirements, this will essentially extend the period of use that the CAM can be ordered by court. Previously, CAM had a limit of 60 days. Lawmakers hope that this heightened level of monitoring will protect the community from the highest-risk drivers.

The CAM program is funded by the offenders.

In 2012, North Carolina DWI laws also expanded in the case of increasing punishments for Felony Death by Motor Vehicle. Previous law made Felony Death by Motor Vehicle a Class E Felony, which made the sentencing standard 3 or 4 years in the defendant did not have a previous criminal record. In the more serious cases when the defendant had a very high BAC, the prosecutors would sometimes seek Second Degree Murder charges, as in the case of Dr. Raymond Cook who was accused of killing Elena Shapiro in 2011. Now, the North Carolina General Assembly increased the punishment of Felony Death by a Motor Vehicle to a Class D, meaning a Level 1 offender without a prior record may be sentenced to 80 months (nearly 7 years) which just about doubles the previous sentence.

Will New Texas DWI Laws Pass to Allow for Sobriety Checkpoints?

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee met Monday in Austin to discuss creative ways to curb DWI in the state. San Antonio police Deputy Chief Anthony Trevino urged legislators to allow for permanent DWI checkpoints that would allow law enforcement to stop drivers and do routine sobriety tests near “drunk driving hot spots.” The deputy police chief’s idea was opposed by Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project who said that this would allow for police abuse of power.

Harrington said, “Once you start setting these roadblocks, you are basically saying the government has control over your movement.”

State Representative Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, the committee chairman, wanted “creative ways” to reduce the number of DWI’s in Texas, and said that the committee was looking for a change in DWI laws to “get on the front end of the problem.” In 2010, drunk drivers with a blood alcohol level higher than 0.08 killed 1,259 people on the Texas roadways. California, which has the second highest number of DWI deaths in the country, had 791 deaths in 2010 caused by drunk drivers.

Gallego said, “It’s always bothersome when California does something better than Texas. California – with more cars, more drivers and more people – still has less DWI-related deaths than Texas does.” This hearing was Pete Gallego’s last in the state Capitol, as he was elected on November 6th to represent U.S. House District 23.

Bexar County (San Antonio) District Attorney Susan Reed expanded “no refusal” weekends to every day of the year starting in April 2012. This means that anyone suspected of DWI in Bexar County will be required to have their blood tested if they refuse the breathalyzer. Reed said of their policy, “We are now the largest metro area in Texas to have an absolute no-refusal policy.”

Bill Lewis, MADD’s public policy liaison, asked legislators to support sobriety checkpoints by passing laws to allow police officers to conduct them. He said checkpoints could save 200 lives in Texas every year. Lewis said of lawmakers, “We have asked them to provide those guidelines for, what is it 18 years? They haven’t done it, so may it’s time to try something else.” He said he would be surprised if the checkpoints do get passed into law because he recognizes that some see checkpoints as government playing “big brother.”

Lewis did suggest to the Legislature that all first-time DWI offenders be required to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicle, which would prevent a car from starting if the driver has any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. Under Texas law, it is the discretion of the judges whether the ignition interlock device is used for DWI offenders.

Texas prohibits checkpoints based on the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, however the Corpus Christi Police Department claims to have found a loophole. Public Information Officer for the Department, Julie Garcia, claims that the department does conduct what they call “driver’s license checkpoints” routinely. If during this driver’s license checkpoint a driver is suspected to be impaired, the officer can conduct field sobriety tests, which if failed, the driver “can and will be arrested.”

Driver’s license checkpoints are also used in Lubbock County, according to Assistant District Attorney Tom Brummett, who said that these checkpoints are an effective way to legally target DWI drivers. He said, “Even though we can’t use DWI or sobriety checkpoints, the law does allow us to use driver’s license checkpoints, vehicle safety checkpoints.”

DWI Task Force Arrests Bartender for Over-serving, Texas

A DWI taskforce in Montgomery County, Texas called the “Bars and Cars” task force has arrested a bartender for over-serving a patron. The DWI task force does not simply focus on drivers who are already drunk and on the road, but on all aspects that lead to drunk driving, including the places where many DWI stories begin–at bars.

In The Woodlands, Texas, undercover officers from the Conroe Police Department visited Baker Street Pub and began observing bartender Chelsea Wilburn and an intoxicated customer. Warren Diepraam, from the Montgomery County DA’s Office, said, “This person was obviously intoxicated, shouting racial epithets. He had slurred speech, very droopy eyes, fumbling around.”

Willburn is being charged with the sale of alcohol to an intoxicated person which is a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, Willburn may face up to a year in jail and a fine up to $4,000.

The Baker Street Pub has also been cited for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person, according to an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The report is in review to determine potential administrative penalties.

The “Bars and Cars” DWI task force is working with bars and educating bartenders and servers about the laws regarding serving already intoxicated patrons. This effort came after a string of fatal drunk driving accidents in the Montgomery County area over the summer.

Arkansas DWI Law and Penalties

If David Whitaker (D) wins the election for the Arkansas House of Representatives District 85, he would like to enact a DWI Battery statute. Under Arkansas DWI law, penalties increase based on the number of DWIs on your record in the past five years, but do not have specific statutes for DWI with injury.

A DWI Negligent Homicide can be charged if the accident resulted in the death of another. DWI Negligent Homicide in Arkansas is a Class B felony with a jail sentence of not less than 5 years and no more than 20 years, with a fine no more than $15,000.

Arkansas’s Act 262, which passed in March 2011, will allow for misdemeanor DUI and DWI convictions to be expunged after five years since the completion of the DWI sentence.

Since Arkansas has a five year rule when considering a DWI record, one woman has 10 DWI convictions on her record, but since her last conviction was in 2007, her 11th DWI would be treated as her first.

Arkansas DWI Penalties Overview

  • 1st Offense: 1 day to 1 year in jail. $150-$1,000 in fines.
  • 2nd Offense: 7 days to 1 year in jail. $400 to $3,000 in fines. Minimum 30 days  community service possible in lieu of jail.
  • 3rd Offense: 90 days to 1 year in jail. $900 to $5,000 in fines. Minimum of 90 days community service possible in lieu of jail.
  • 4th Offense (felony): 1 year to 6 years in prison. $900 to $5,000 in fines. 1 year minimum community service possible in lieu of jail.
  • 5th Offense or more (felony): 2 years to 10 years in prison. $900 to $5,000 in fines. 2 years minimum community service possible in lieu of jail.

Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) charges have a 3 year look back period, meaning offenses in the last three years are considered as part of your record. A 1st BWI can be punishable by 1 year in jail and a fine between $250-$1,000. A 2nd BWI in 3 years is punishable by 2 days to 1 year in jail, a fine between $500-$1,000, and a mandatory 30 days minimum of community service. A 3rd BWI or more is punishable by 60 days to 1 year in jail and a fine between $1,000 and $5,000.

Santa Fe Makes Profit on Vehicles Forfeited for DWI

Santa Fe’s DWI Forfeiture Ordinance benefited from the unexpected consequence of accruing $231,000 in revenue since the inception of the program in 2009. The city started the DWI Forfeiture Ordinance to keep chronic drunk drivers off the road. The $231,000 does not take into account the money owed to towing companies.

In 2012 alone, 64 vehicles have been seized under the DWI ordinance. The city’s ordinance states that the city has the right to forfeit any vehicle that is driven by a someone with a previous DWI conviction. The ordinance also extends to a vehicle that is knowingly being lent to a driver with a previous DWI conviction.

There are 46 vehicles and their owners and lien holders currently in legal dispute.

The city holds 129 vehicles in two different impound lots. The charge is $10 a day for storage.

City Attorney Alfred Walker says, “People are obviously not happy when they lose their car, but we try to make them feel like they’ve been heard through the process, and people usually respect that.”

When a car is seized, a person has 30 days to request an administrative hearing to either request an administrative hearing with the city or file an innocent-owner affidavit, which would state that the owner of the vehicle had no knowledge of the driver’s previous DWI offenses.

A hearing is set with an independent hearing officer to determine if police had probably cause to seize the vehicle. In just the month of October, there are already 50 hearings scheduled.

The vehicle is returned with no fees if the owner wins the hearing. The fees that are paid mount up quickly and substantially. There is a $200 administrative fee, a $70 a week fee to hold the car in addition to the $10 daily fee, a $150 boot fee, a $250 interlock tracking fee, and the towing fee which is variable.

If the hearing officer find that police did have probably cause to seize the vehicle, then the case is forwarded to a District Court where a judge decides whether to return the car to the owner, or hand the title over to the city of Santa Fe.

DWI Forfeiture Program Administrator Amanda Katz said that a majority of the vehicles that come to the impound lot are abandoned and never claimed.

Santa Fe has sold 40 vehicles in three auctions since 2009. The auctions made just over $42,000 in sales. A Ford Ranchero with just 21,368 miles on it sold for just $4,500, but most of the vehicles sold for less than $1,000.

The state Department of Transportation granted Santa Fe $320,000 over the last three years to get this forfeiture program off the ground and 2012 is the last year that Santa Fe will be aided by the grant.

Texas Program Uses Sober Court to Reform DWI Offenders

A new program aimed to treat hardcore drunk driving offenders makes an attempt to prevent repeat offenses by simply keeping them sober.Harris County, Texas is intensifying the SOBER Court program, and is funding overtime for 14 deputies to participate using seized assets from criminals. The program involves random, surprise home inspections, in which a deputy will perform breath tests on defendants and inspect for non-compliance with the program, which requires no possession of alcohol or illegal drugs. Offenders must also meet with a DWI judge twice a month and use an alcohol-monitoring device 3-4 times a day from work, home, or their vehicle.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia addressed new graduates of the SOBER Court program, he said, “I will do anything in my power to get Harris County, Texas off the top of the list of DWI-related traffic fatalities in the country.”

In 2009, Harris County had the highest rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths in the country among the nation’s most populous counties.

“We don’t want you before these judges being tried for involuntary manslaughter,” Garcia said. “If you think my deputies or any of these judges are playing, try us. We’ll hold jail space for those of you not listening. We’re going to be extremely serious about your success.”