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Reconsidering DUI Laws
Posted by Charles Esslinger on Jan 31st, 2014

Washington lawmakers seek to expand DUI definition:

A year after cost concerns ended a proposal to make more drunk driving crimes count as felonies, some Washington lawmakers are once again pushing for change. The state's Senate Law & Justice Committee recently held a hearing to consider Senate Bill 6090, which would make a DUI offense a felony after the fourth time a person has been caught driving under the influence. Under current laws, it takes 5 DUI offenses for a person to receive felony charges.

Last year, Washington's legislature turned its attention to drunk driving after a tragic crash in Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood that killed a couple and critically injured their daughter-in-law and infant grandson. The deadly crash, which involved a drunk driver, eventually lead to some significant changes to Washington's DUI laws. Unfortunately, due to the state's budget constraints at the time, the most dramatic and expensive proposals were left out.

Now, lawmakers are trying to revive some of the ideas they were unable to pass last year. “We've got to find some way to do this,” said state Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley). Padden, who serves as the committee's chairman, admitted that the changes would be expensive, but insisted they worth paying for. “It's a matter of priorities, and I would argue that this is a priority.”

Even though supporters of the bill are fighting hard for its passage, they acknowledge the long odds. State Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, said he thinks lawmakers will end up approving some minor, technical changes. On Feb. 4, Goodman will hold hearings to address things like the post-conviction supervision of repeat DUI offenders, an expansion of communication for alcohol-sensing and ignition-interlock requirements, and the ability of police to conduct blood-alcohol tests without the driver's consent. In addition, Goodman says he's also willing to hold a hearing on a bill establishing random sobriety checkpoints, even though one hasn't been formally proposed.

When it comes down to it, these changes are really about money. Most in Washington seem to agree with the proposals, even if they can't figure out how to pay for them. David Postman, a spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said that while “the governor absolutely supports the policy of decreasing the convictions before felony, we need to make sure there is funding.”

Of the 44 states with felony DUI laws, Washington is the only one that waits for the fifth offense for felony charges to kick in.


Sleeping drunk behind the wheel still counts as DUI:

The Montana Supreme Court recently ruled that a drunk person who is asleep behind the wheel of a car is still “in physical control” of the vehicle and is therefore subject to DUI charges. In the case, the court agreed with the ruling of Helena District Judge James Reynolds, who refused to allow a man accused of drunk driving to use the fact that he was asleep as a defense.

The defendant, Jason Rand, was initially found by Lewis and Clark County deputies asleep in his vehicle with the motor still running. When police officers approached him to see if he needed assistance, they noticed a strong smell of alcohol emanating from the vehicle. After conducting a sobriety test, they arrested Rand for DUI and took him to jail.

“In light of this well-settled Montana law, the District Court properly found that evidence of Rand's intent was irrelevant to the trial, and properly refused Rand's instruction that his mental state should be considered in determining 'actual physical control,'” Justice Michael Wheat wrote in the unanimous decision. “A driver remains in actual physical control of a vehicle while asleep behind its steering wheel; movement or intended movement is not required.”

In the state of Montana, driving under the influence is considered a “strict liability offense” that does not require intent.


Sources:

Seattle Times - http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022721585_duiupdatexml.html

KPAC.com - http://www.kpax.com/news/mt-high-court-sleeping-drunk-behind-wheel-is-still-dui/