I found this story interesting as there are some similarities with Minnesota DWI law. In Minnesota, if you area arrested for DUI and have certain “aggravating factors” present from the facts of your arrest, then you may be subject to having to submit to on going breath testing to measure your blood alcohol concentration as a condition of release even before there is a criminal conviction.
Interesting enough, a judge in Montana has invalidated an important anti-drunk driving law in that state after finding it to be unconstitutionally vague and a violation of defendants’ due process rights. District Judge James Wheelis said that the 24/7 sobriety program couldn’t be allowed to continue as it is currently written, scraping a widely supported piece of legislation.
The 24/7 program was started in 2011 after the then-Attorney General Steve Bullock pushed the measure as a way to combat the scourge of repeat drunk driving. The legislature overwhelmingly passed the measure and heralded it as an effective means of cracking down on dangerous impaired drivers. The legislation says that any person who is arrested for a “subsequent” impaired driving crime must enroll in the 24/7 sobriety program. The program requires those who have been arrested to submit to and pay for random Breathalyzer tests in the weeks or months before a judge hears their case.
The law not only requires the random tests, but it also says that anyone who fails to show up for one of the tests can be held in contempt of court and be subjected to additional fines or penalties. Judge’s are further permitted to set bond based on a person’ actions in the 24/7 program.
The issue in the current case revolved around one Montana driver, Robert Spady, who was arrested last year for drunk driving. The man had a previous DUI conviction from several years ago and was thus required to take part in the 24/7 program. However, Mr. Spady was forced to endure the random breath tests for months, 113 days to be precise, forking over more than $450 in related fees.
Despite his multiple tests, Spady either missed or was late in arriving to three random alcohol screenings. Each time Spady missed the scheduled appointment he was arrested and charged with contempt of court. Spady and his attorney ultimately challenged the charges and argued the entire 24/7 program was unconstitutional. Spady’s lawyer claimed that the testing was oppressive and overly burdensome and that the fees amounted to punishment of someone who had never actually been convicted of a crime.
Ultimately, Judge Wheelis agreed with Spady, concluding that the program was flawed in several respects. First, the fees charged to defendants were indeterminate given that a driver could be forced to undergo testing for as little as a few days or as much as several months. Additionally, the language of the law was vague with regard to defining what a “subsequent” drunk driving offense meant and could be selectively enforced by law enforcement authorities.
Ultimately, the problem with the 24/7 law boiled down to its punishment of people who should have been viewed as innocent until they were proven guilty. Requiring innocent people to drop what they are doing to travel for up to 50 miles, take time off of work and find childcare all so they could submit to breath tests did not pass constitutional muster. The state says it will appeal the decision and many in Montana are awaiting the outcome.
Source: “Judge declares ‘24/7’ DUI-prevention law unconstitutional,” by Mike Dennison, published at MTStandard.com.