Montana DUI Laws Allow for Lenient Sentence for Man’s 13th DUI

Judge Susan Watters was required by Montana’s DUI sentencing laws to give a seemingly lenient sentence to a man who has been arrested for drunk driving a dozen times. The case of William Dean Grussing brought light to what the prosecutor referred to as a “gaping hole” in a statute that is supposed to punish drunk drivers. According to the Montana DUI laws, a maximum sentence of 5 years can be imposed for a felony DUI conviction if the defendant previously attended a treatment program while in jail for a DUI offense. However, as in Grussing’s case, if a defendant did not participate in a treatment program they can only be sentenced to a standard term of 13 months followed by a maximum probation of 5 years.

Judge Susan Watters said, “It seems counter-intuitive to me that someone who completes treatment could get five years, but someone who doesn’t gets a more lenient sentence. That doesn’t make sense to me, and I would encourage the Legislature to take a look at that provision.”

Grussing was charged with his 12th DUI in June 2011. While that case was pending, Grussing was arrested for DUI again in June 2012 and was charged with his 13th DUI.

Grussing could have been required to pay a $5,000 fine for felony DUI, which is Montana’s maximum fine. Grussing was ordered to pay $3,000 in fines. Grussing spoke at his sentencing hearing, and said he had been sober for 9 1/2 years before last year’s arrest.

Montana has been getting tougher on DUI laws in other ways. House Bill 14, which changes the look-back period for DUI offenses from five-years to ten-years, was passed in 2011. This means that any DUI on a person’s record can be considered if they re-offend within a ten-year period. Previously, the courts could only consider drunk driving offenses that occurred within the last five years.

Not all lawmakers were fond of this new law, especially Republican Alan Hale, who gave a speech opposing HB14 and the toughening of all DUI laws. He said, “These DUI laws are not doing our small businesses in our state any good at all. They are destroying them. They are destroying a way of life that has been in Montana for years and years. These taverns and bars in these smaller communities connect people together. They are the center of the communities. I’ll guarantee you there’s only two ways to get there: either you hitchhike, or you drive, and I promise you they’re not going to hitchhike.”

Strange Alcohol Laws in the U.S.

There are over 70 different types of licenses for selling alcohol in Kansas, and seven classifications dictating alcohol sales in a county, ranging from dry, wet, moist, limited, golf course, winery, and qualified historic site (QHS). In Kansas, voters are not allowed to buy alcoholic beverages during primary or general elections but can during special elections. Grocery stores must have a separate entrance and shop in order to sell wine or liquor, and consumers can run a tab on beer at a bar but cannot do the same for distilled spirits or wine.

Beverages with more than 3.2% alcohol by weight or 4% by volume (most liquors, wines, and even beers now) must be sold at room temperature in licensed liquor stores. Oklahoman beer distributors sell low-point beer to avoid this limitation, allowing beer to not just be sold in convenience stores and supermarkets, but also refrigerated!

Indiana is the only state in the U.S. that bans all alcohol sales on Sundays outside of bars and restaurants.

You can legally drink under the age of 21 in Texas if you are accompanied by a parent, guardian, or spouse. The parent, guardian, or spouse must be visibly present while the minor is possessing or consuming the alcohol.

You may not be able to receive a permit for serving beverages of low alcohol content if you are specifically a donut shop:

A. The commissioner shall not:
(7) Issue a permit of any class to any donut shop for the sale of alcoholic beverages. For purposes of this Paragraph, “donut shop” shall be defined as an establishment that meets all of the following:
(a) Sells donuts, pastries, or other confections.
(b) Does not operate a fully equipped kitchen used for the preparation of uncooked foods, other than donuts, pastries, or other confections, for service and consumption of such foods on the premises.
(c) Does not prepare and serve uncooked foods, other than donuts, pastries, or other confections, at least five days a week.

NY Grant Funds DWI Checkpoints in Broome County

Broome County law enforcement has received a grant to help fund extra patrols for DWI checkpoints for the remainder of this year and into 2013. The grant for $23,712 came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association and will find seven overtime patrols and DWI checkpoints.

The first DWI checkpoint is planned for the Halloween weekend. The grant is going to be divided between State Police, the Sheriff’s Office, and other municipal police departments. In Broome County, an impressive half of DWI arrests are made at these checkpoints, according to Chris Marion, the STOP-DWI coordinator for Broome County.

In New York, a driver can be charged with a traffic infraction known as DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired) if their BAC is below the limit .08. A BAC greater than .05 and less than .08 can be charged with DWI per se, and a driver refusing a chemical test can be charged with DWI, even without any evidence.

Broome County Executive Debbie Preston said, “I take DWI offenses very seriously. My Aunt was killed by a drunk driver and my mother was critically injured by a drunk driver, causing years of recovery. I’ve seen first-hand what the actions of drunk drivers can do to victims and their families. This Grant will help us continue to crack down on these serious offenses. Anyone who plans to drink and get behind the wheel in Broome County needs to reconsider their plans.”

In 2011 alone, 641 DWI arrests were made throughout Broome County.

“The officers at these checkpoints get a good idea from talking to you if there evidence of alcohol use,” said Broome County Sheriff David Harder. “Most of the time it’s going to be on the driver’s breath or their speech could be slurred.”

Marion said that so far this year, there have been no fatalities linked to drunk driving in Broome County. In May 2011, three people were killed when a drunk driver crashed into the Chenango River off Interstate 88 in Port Crane.

Sheriff David Harder said, “Cracking down on DWI offenses is a top priority of the Sheriff’s Office. We will continue to vigorously enforce the law and hope that the public is aware that they will be caught and arrested if they choose to drive drunk. The Grant will help us patrol the County through the upcoming Holidays, when statistically DWI arrests are on the rise.”

Petition Against Intoxilyzer 8000 Filed in Florida

A petition was filed with Florida’s Division of Administrative hearings last week challenging the use of the breath-testing machine, the Intoxilyzer 8000, as a reliable device in drunk driving prosecutions.

The petitioners released a statement which accused the Florida Department of Law Enforcement of deliberately hiding information about the number of failed test results produced by the machine. The statement included that the FDLE withheld “information about failures by the Intoxilyzer 8000 during its initial approval testing in 2002.”

The attorneys filing the petition complained that even when the machine was approved in 2002, that it failed a significant amount of tests. They also said that the FDLE got approval for the Intoxilyzer 8000 without notifying the public or state government officials of these test results.

In 2009, a panel of judges in Brevard County ruled that 56 DUI cases would not be thrown out based on an argument that the Intoxilyzer was not approved for use in Florida, the argument was that specific parts were not in compliance with regulations.

The Intoxilyzer 8000 is manufactured by CMI in Kentucky and the source code for the machine has been the issue of litigation across the country.

If an administrative ruling in favor of the attorneys petition transpired, it could mean the FDLE would need to get another approval for the Intoxilyzer 8000, and it may also affect whether past breath-results could be used in pending DUI cases. Judge Stuart Lerner has been assigned to the case but has not yet set a hearing.

New Alabama Law Will Require Ignition Interlock Devices for DUI Offenders

A new Alabama law took effect September 1 that will affect people convicted of DUI with a BAC above 0.15%. The ignition interlock device is a machine installed in a vehicle to test the BAC of the driver, and many states have laws that make these devices mandatory after a person has been convicted of a DUI.

Now Alabama will require these devices to be used when a person is convicted of DUI with a BAC of 0.15 or higher, which is nearly double the legal limit of .08%.

Judges are waiting to order the interlock devices until they are given the exact details of how the new law will be administered. Montgomery County District Judge Jimmy Pool said only two companies that install the devices have been approved. As of now, Smart Start is one of the only companies approved by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences.

First and second-time offenders would be required to keep the interlock device on their vehicles for two years, a third-time offender would be required to use the device for three years, and a fourth-time offender would need to use the device on their vehicle for five years. The offender would also have restricted driving privileges, and would only be allowed to drive a car that had the interlocking device installed.

The Legislature will decide which offenders will be required to use the devices, and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences is responsible for the rules and authorization of which companies can sell the devices. The Department of Public Safety oversees the training of people in the program.

Rep. Mike Hill of Columbiana, who sponsored the bill, said state officials are setting all the rules in place before fully implementing the program.

DUI Hotel for Eligible Drunk Driving Offenders

DUI HotelAn Allegheny County program allows drunk drivers to serve mandatory jail time in a hotel if they meet certain requirements. Known to some as “DUI Hotel“, the DUI Alternative Jail Program is essentially a 3-day, 3-night program held at two participating hotels, and costs about $500. It is for people who have a prior conviction and then get arrested for DUI, and who are ineligible for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition.In the program, participants are required to attend evaluations and alcohol-education programs and treatment sessions. Tom McCaffrey is the director of adult probation in Allegheny County and supports the program. He said, “The program goes Thursday through Sunday. The entire program is designed that they are busy the whole time. They complete alcohol evaluations, they do their mandatory DUI school mandated by PennDOT and they do their treatment that they have to do. I think it’s going to be a good thing for the court, I think it will be a good thing for the jail, and it will be a good thing for the taxpayers.”

DUI Hotel can replace the system of using electronic monitoring bracelets, which county officials report costs $2 million a year in taxpayer dollars. However, not everyone is behind the program. George Saurman is a former seven-term state representative from Montgomery County who said, “The whole idea of sentencing people to jail is for safety — for their own safety and for other people’s safety. For anyone to have the idea that now that they’ve been caught, they can serve out their time in a hotel, rather than having the punishment imposed, is absolutely insane. I can’t see any motivation or justification for modifying the penalty. It’s inexcusable, as far as I’m concerned.”

The program was adopted in 2010, and Allegheny was the first county in Pennsylvania to use it. Now Westmoreland County officials are considering it too.

Anna Duerr, a spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), said that the program would not act as a deterrent to driving while intoxicated. “There is no science to show that sentencing convicted drunk drivers to serve time in a hotel helps to stop repeat offenses,” she said.