Monitech

Category: Law

arizona-wrong-way-driving-law

It’s no surprise that Arizona’s Governor signed the wrong-way driving bill. No one likes wrong-way driving, which is dangerous and usually the result of alcohol. Thanks to the law, Arizona wrong-way driving is now an automatic felony, garnering between four and 30 months in prison.

The question remains, was this law the one the state really needs to fight drunk driving? Probably not. As we noted before, anyone drunk enough to drive the wrong way on a highway is not thinking about the consequences. The law might have some small deterrence effect – people might see that someone was put in prison after the DUI felony and resolve to be more careful about drinking and driving – but it’s not going to boost road safety significantly.

The Problem: Drinking and Driving

As some critics have noted, the root of the problem is drinking and driving, a problem Arizona has been wrestling with for a long time. In 2007 the state became one of the first to mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses, and this did bring down the toll of alcohol-related fatalities. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The question, then, is what is left to do?

Enforcing Ignition Interlock Laws

It’s not enough to pass good ignition interlock laws – the states’ ignition interlock programs must be well-run. Arizona’s laws are good. One addition worth making would be an indigent fund to help subsidize those who cannot afford the cost of the program. The alternative for those people is either to stop driving and possibly lose their livelihood, or to drive in violation of the law.

Another would be to have the ignition interlock device available upon arrest, rather than waiting for conviction. That way, those who have a genuine alcohol problem would be prevented from driving drunk. They could also demonstrate their willingness to obey the law.

A Few Fixes On The Way

Arizona Senate Bill 1401 is working its way through the legislature. The bill would make some useful refinements to the state’s ignition interlock program. Among them is the provision for interlock providers to report in real time to AZDOT whenever a driver fails three rolling re-tests (tests while driving) in a row.

Like the Arizona wrong-way driving law, SB1401 will not shake things up. It will take better enforcement of existing laws – and not new ones – to further lower the DUI fatality rate on Arizona’s roads.

second-degree-murder-dui

We know that drunk drivers cause deaths all the time – some 30,000 each year in this country. But is that murder? According to the law books in many states, it is – of a sort. A recent case in Winston-Salem shows that a murder charge is a definite possibility if you kill someone while driving drunk in North Carolina.

Last year, according to news reports, Roberto Jose Lemus Martinez was driving drunk the wrong way on U.S. 52. Police reports say he crashed his SUV into a Camry with three people in it. Jean Lawrence High, 80, was killed in the crash. Recently Martinez was indicted on a charge of second-degree murder for his role in High’s death.

Second-Degree Murder: Yes, It’s Intentional

First-degree murder is a charge we all know well from Law & Order: intentional, premeditated, with malice aforethought. The grand jury, however, is not saying that this crime was premeditated.

Second-degree murder is intentional, though, and with malice aforethought. One might wonder why killing someone while driving drunk would be considered an intentional crime. The offender doesn’t start out with the intention of killing another person. But the fact is, impaired driving is a conscious decision, one that disregards the well-known dangers to others on the road. You can’t get behind the wheel while drunk and claim that you don’t intend to do others harm – it’s obvious to everyone that drunk driving ends up doing harm every day. The legal definition of “malice” includes an utter disregard for another’s welfare.

Different states’ laws use different language – some call it “extreme  indifference.” California calls it “implied malice.”

In North Carolina it’s an act “done in such a reckless and wanton manner as to manifest a mind utterly without regard for human life and social duty.”

We can’t think of a better description of drunk driving that results in death. As long as there are those who are without regard for human life and social duty, some drunk drivers will be facing a charge of second-degree murder.

wrong-way-driving-arizona

A while back we wrote about a bill going through the Arizona legislature designed to deal with the problem of wrong-way drivers. If passed, the law would make wrong-way driving an automatic felony, requiring a fine and traffic classes.

The bill has been passed by a Senate panel, and now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

Are We Happy?

No one wants to see a car in the wrong lane, driving at them. It’s a uniquely scary experience, which no doubt accounts for the ease with which this bill is sailing through the legislature. But some voices are not as confident that the law will accomplish anything.

What Causes Wrong-Way Driving?

The reason: people are usually driving the wrong way because they’re drunk. So stronger measures against drunk driving would probably make more sense than legislating against one symptom of drunk driving, albeit a very dangerous one.

In 2012 the National Transportation and Safety Board published an analysis on the problem of wrong-way driving. Their findings:

  • 10 percent of wrong-way drivers in the study had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) between .08 and .15 (.08 is the legal level of intoxication nationally)
  • 59 percent had a BAC at or above .15 – referred to as “super drunk” in some states
  • 9 percent of wrong-way drivers had had a DUI in the previous 3 years (contrasted with 3 percent of the control group)

Alcohol, then, is a large part of the wrong-way driving problem, and an increased penalty for wrong-way driving is not going to address it, simply because a person getting behind the wheel with a BAC of .15 does not know or care he or she is driving the wrong way until the arrest – or the collision.

Get At The Cause

A more sensible approach would be to better enforce drunk driving laws. Arizona already mandates ignition interlock for all DUI offenses, which is good. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The state should add to its interlock law compliance-based removal – ensuring that a person with an ignition interlock does not have it removed unless he or she can pass a set number of months with no failed tests. Any attempt to drive after drinking would result in a longer interlock term.

No one wants drivers to drive the wrong way. If legislators feel better passing a law against it, then fine. But they will need to keep an eye on the cause of wrong-way driving if they really want to save lives in Arizona.

north-carolina-dram-shop-law

Last September a Chevrolet driven by a man named Robert Kite flew off an elevated highway ramp onto the road about 300 feet below. Robert Kite, a father of six, was killed instantly. Since his blood alcohol level was 3 times the legal limit, the North Carolina ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) Commission looked into the situation. It turned out he had ordered 17 shots of bourbon in the 4 hours before driving.

The bar where Kite did his drinking, the Wild Wing Café in Aynsley, had offered to pay a $1,000 fine. The ABC Commission rejected the settlement in light of the revelation that the bar had served Kite 17 shots.

The bar claims that Kite did not drink all 17 shots of Maker’s Mark bourbon – they were just on the bill together. But the ABC notes that no one else was drinking that brand of liquor.

North Carolina Dram Shop Laws

Dram shop law is the term used for laws which determine a commercial establishment’s liability when someone drinks and causes harm. North Carolina is among the US states which have a dram shop law. The law prohibits the saleIt states that it is unlawful to sell alcohol to an intoxicated person. North Carolina laws allow a bar to be held liable if it serves alcohol to a customer who is visibly intoxicated and who then injured or kills someone in a collision.

According to North Carolina dram shop laws, then, the onus is on the server This opens up another question: to what lengths should a server go to in order to ensure that a customer is not drunk?

The $1,000 settlement will not fly, so the ABC will try to negotiate another one with Wild Wing Café, and this one will involve a higher penalty. How high can and should that penalty go?

arizona-loophole-cheats-justice

A man drives recklessly, killing a mother and injuring her two small children. And he spends no time in prison. It doesn’t seem fair. And in fact, it isn’t.

It happened in Chandler, Arizona – a man named William Epperlein failed to see a red light. He had a long history of DUI, speeding, and other traffic violations, and did not even have a valid license, so it would seem that the court would throw the book at him for this egregious misstep.

But the court declined to prosecute.

The reason was a technicality centering around the difference between a suspended license and a revoked one. Epperlein was to have his license revoked for his DUI, which would have made his more recent fatal collision a prosecutable offense. But he made a deal: purchase SR-22 insurance (an expensive  insurance designed for high-risk drivers) and meet other restrictions and he could keep the license. In fact, Epperlein blew off the SR-22 insurance, which resulted in a suspended-but not revoked- license. Driving on a suspended license is not as serious as driving with a revoked one.

A curious Arizona loophole, but one through which justice was lost, according to the family of the victim, Pamela Hesselbacher.

House Bill 2522 might change that. The bill would hold all repeat offenders who cause collisions leading to death or injury liable for their actions.

It’s too late for Pamela Hesselbacher, but the bill is a sensible one, designed to protect innocents on the road. It’s time to close this Arizona loophole and hold offenders responsible for the damage they do.

jail-for-dwi

A glitch in North Carolina’s penal system is short-changing the state’s efforts to reform drunk drivers.

An article in The Marshall Project tells the story of North Carolina DWI offenders who are serving time – years – in jails that are meant for short-term stays. As a result, these offenders have no access to the facilities that prisons offer: drug and alcohol treatment, job training, and education.

Jail For DWI: How Good Intentions Fail

These offenders are in jails because North Carolina decided to reduce the state’s prison population in 2011 with the Justice Reinvestment Act. Misdemeanor offenders, including DWI offenders, were sent to jails instead of state prisons. At the same time, the state was getting tougher on drunk drivers, imposing mandatory sentences on certain DWI offenses. Both these moves had good intentions: the first was designed to reduce state spending and divert funds directly into communities. The second was to reduce drunk driving by getting tough on serious offenders.

There was a problem: as a result of these two moves, repeat DWI offenders, people with alcohol problems and other substance issues, are being sent to local jails where they get no treatment. When they are released, the chances are they will drive drunk again.

What Works: Sobriety Court Plus Ignition Interlocks

The most effective system for dealing with DWI offenders is the sobriety court/ignition interlock combination, which has been praised for the success this method has found in, for example, Michigan:

  • Offenders receive direct supervision by an officer who ensures that all aspects of the program are being followed.
  • Offenders go to regular treatment sessions and the results are shared with officers.
  • The court ensures that an ignition interlock – a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – is installed on the offender’s vehicle. In non-supervised settings, a large percentage of offenders don’t comply with the interlock order.
  • The interlock ensures that an offender retains driving privileges, and can therefore get to treatment.
  • The expense of incarceration is avoided.
  • Offenders can maintain or improve their employment situation, which would not be possible without the interlock and supervision.

Naturally, jail for DWI is sometimes called for. But in cases of long-term imprisonment, offenders must have access to treatment for the issues which caused them to be there. Making people sit in a local jail, without treatment, proper exercise facilities, or opportunities for education or self-betterment, is no way to improve a social ill.

You can’t imprison your way out of an alcohol problem. Better solutions are out there, at least for some of the offenders who are now in North Carolina’s jails.

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