Push for Stricter DUI Laws Continues

WCHS8 of Charleston, WV is reporting that the West Virginia state legislature is looking at making the penalties for DUI more severe. Citing a rise in car accidents involving DUI, a new law is being worked on for the next session that would require all DUI offenders to have ignition interlock devices installed (presumably for a period of one year). If the DUI offender does prison time, the interlock period would increase to two years. As justification for this new requirement, the article states that in other states where this requirement is made, drunk driving rates have dropped by up to 50%.

The initiative is endorsed by the West Virginia DMV, whose commissioner is quoted as saying the interlock device is an “effective way of reducing the DUI issue”. Interestingly, the article also states that the DMV plans on continuing to “strongly” enforce the current DUI law. Consequently, the article also mentions that the West Virginia Governor is also looking at an initiative to help police better detect all types of impairment, including drug DUIs. My thoughts on the article and these legislative developments are as follows:

First, West Virginia’s current law involving the ignition interlock devices, even for non-West Virginia residents, is very strict. If a person is charged with non-aggravated DUI (BAC between .08-.149) that person faces a 6-month license suspension unless they agree to have the interlock ignition device installed in their car for an extended period. It has been my experience that my clients almost always have the interlock installed because their very livelihood depends on it. Furthermore, the costs of the device, the fines, and court costs, are severe. It is my opinion that these repercussions are plenty, especially for the poor state that West Virginia is. I would be curious to see a study that compares something like the current West Virginia system to that of the extended requirement described above. My guess is that the justification stat cited above (drunk driving rates dropped by up to 50% with the interlock) compares no interlock ignition requirement to a mandatory installation, not a current one to an extended one.

Second, the West Virginia Governor’s initiative to detect drug DUIs likely will be through what is known as the D.R.E. or drug recognition expert program. In a nutshell, there has been a nationwide trend for state-wide police services to train officers to diagnose and detect people who are using controlled substances other than alcohol. These officers are then able to testify at trials as “experts” for the purpose of convicting drug DUI defendants by saying they can make medical diagnoses without the benefit of a degree in a medical field. (I will be monitoring the DRE situation in the months to come).

Ultimately, I believe this article is a foreshadowing of things to come: more costly requirements for DUI defendants to follow and more officers on the road looking for DUIs specifically. These developments are possibly based on junk science as I believe the study cited in the article is not comparing the DUI regime currently in West Virginia, and the DRE program allows police officers to testify to medical issues they have not received degrees for.

Source: WCHS - “Recent Accidents Put Spotlight on WV DUI Laws” - 8 October 2013