“Emmas Law” passed the House yesterday with a unanimous vote, and is expected to pass the Senate as well. The law will require drivers to have an ignition interlock device for 6 months following a DUI 1st offense conviction with a BAC of greater than .15, and it will require an ignition interlock device for 2 years following a DUI 2nd offense conviction, regardless of the BAC level.
I’m ambivalent about requiring interlock devices for persons who are convicted of DUI, provided the devices are accurate (I don’t know that they are) and that they are mandated only for a definite period of time, such as the 6 month and 2 year requirements in this particular bill. There are some nutcases out there who would like to require every person to have an ignition interlock device on their car, or require car manufacturers to install them on every car – that is untenable.
Of course, no DUI-related article in any self-respecting publication could forgo the obligatory slap at DUI lawyers, using the word “loophole” at least once:
South Carolina’s current DUI laws contain numerous loopholes that let people charged with DUI delay or avoid trial, get off with light sentences and resume driving quickly. Representing accused and convicted DUIs is a booming, $100 million-plus annual business for attorneys in South Carolina. About 30,000 people are arrested each year for DUI.
“Loophole” translates to “constitutional protection” or anything that is written into a law to protect ordinary people from over-zealous or over-reaching government officials. Our current DUI law was carefully crafted by defense lawyers, prosecutors, and legislators to create a balance between aggressive DUI enforcement and protection of our rights. The newest amendments to our state’s DUI laws increased penalties dramatically, with mandatory minimum sentences of up to 3 years and maximum sentences of up to 7 years, with a system of graduated penalties based on BAC level and prior offenses.
If you think that DUI defense lawyers are not necessary, consider that our state continues a system of rewards (not quotas), including shiny new cars, for law enforcement officers who make the most DUI arrests – not convictions, but arrests, without regard to the quality of the cases or whether the person arrested was actually guilty.
If you think that the only persons charged with DUI are hopeless drunks who are carousing the highways while liquored up, you are wrong. I have handled cases where officers charged a person whose BAC was 0.00 and who then passed a blood test as well. I have handled many cases where the person had a drink or two drinks and was well below the “legal limit.” Some officers will charge a person if they smell alcohol, regardless of how many drinks the person had. Whether you drink one half of one beer or 12 beers, it smells the same on your breath.
It is not against the law to drink and then drive, nor should it be. It is against the law to drink to a point where your faculties to drive are materially and appreciably impaired – when your reflexes are impaired to the point where you are a danger to others on the highway. The videotaping requirement in S.C.’s DUI law is not a “loophole” – it is a necessary check on an officer’s ability to arrest and prosecute people who are not violating the law. We don’t have to take an officer’s word for it – the defense, prosecutor, judge, and jury can see the person’s conduct during the traffic stop for themselves.