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Tougher DUI Laws Across the Country

by | Feb 12, 2014

Last summer, the D.C. council enacted a series of measures that would toughen penalties for DUI convictions, regardless of whether it was the first offense or fifth.

Our D.C. DUI defense lawyers recognize that this has significantly raised the stakes for those who are arrested, with sanctions effectively doubling for each offense.

Now, we see across the country that many other municipalities and states are taking on the issue, effecting a cultural shift that no longer treats a first-time offender as a bonafide criminal as opposed to someone who simply made a poor judgment call.

Let’s start with the initiation of the traffic stop. In 42 states, plus D.C., there are administrative license suspension laws for even first-time offenders. These laws allow law enforcement to confiscate a person’s license if he or she fails a chemical test. In D.C., that suspension can last anywhere from 2 to 90 days or until the case reaches a disposition. In some cases, work and school privileges may be later extended.

If a person refuses a chemical test, he or she may receive an automatic one-year license suspension.

Then there is the matter of ignition interlocks, a device that requires a driver to pass a breathalyzer test before a car will start. In D.C., the legislature has allowed judicial discretion in determining whether a first-time offender should be forced to have the devices installed.

However, strengthening these laws has become one of the main goals of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 2014. They want to make such action mandatory for all first-time offenders, thereby stripping judges of their discretion.

MADD is a powerful lobbying group, and many states are responding in kind.

In Pennsylvania, legislators are attempting to come up with a compromise. Under the current law, only repeat DUI offenders are mandated to have ignition interlock installed. There had been a proposal to require them first-time offenders shortly after their conviction. There was concern, though, that this let offenders off too easily. So now, the latest proposal involves forcing drivers to serve out half of their suspension before they have the option of obtaining and interlock device and driving again. A second proposal requires that drivers must not fail a breath test on the interlock for at least two months before they can petition to have the device removed – even if it’s after their designated sentence.

In New York, a recent law mandates that those with a conditional license who are caught driving drunk will now face felony charges, where previously it was only considered a traffic infraction.

On a national level, the National Transportation Safety Board is pushing for a reduction in the blood-alcohol content cut-off standard, from 0.08 percent down to 0.05 percent.

In D.C., first-time DUi offenders face 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine – double what they did prior to last summer. If a first-time offender has a BAC of 0.20 percent or higher, he or she will receive a mandatory 10 days in jail (where it used to be just five days). A person with a BAC of 0.25 percent or higher will receive 15 mandatory jail days, up from 10. A person with 0.30 percent BAC will receive a mandatory 20 days of incarceration.

Those with children in the car of a DUI face a mandatory five days in jail if the child was belted in properly. If the child was not adequately restrained, that sentence is upped to 10 days.

Commercial operators are considered impaired if their BAC is at or above 0.04 percent, as opposed to the standard 0.08 percent for other drivers.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.