What qualifies as a second drunk driving arrest? Though the answer may seem obvious, a second DUI/DWI charge, there is plenty of room for interpretation, something the Vermont Supreme Court recently tackled in an important drunk driving court case.
Vermont’s existing drunk driving law says that those drivers in the state who break the law face increased criminal penalties for future violations. The intention of the law is to serve as a deterrent for offenders who may be tempted to drink and drive a second, or third time. The Vermont Supreme Court recently had to decide whether a person who has been stopped a second time, but then refused to submit to a chemical test to determine their BAC, qualifies as a repeat offender.
The Vermont Supreme Court actually heard two very similar drunk driving cases, both of which involved drivers who had prior drunk driving charges on their records. In both cases, the men were then pulled over a second time and refused to take a breath or blood test to determine their blood alcohol concentration. The issue was whether this refusal qualifies as a second offense and thus allows the men to face far stiffer penalties.
A majority of the justices decided that the drivers did violate the repeat offender law and deserved to face enhanced penalties for their actions. The refusal should qualify as a second violation of the state’s drunk driving laws which means both defendants will now contend with much more severe punishments than they may have initially anticipated.
The ruling conflicted with a lower court judge’s decision, which said that were no basis to charge the men with a second DUI, given that the only crime was refusing to submit to a chemical test. Now that the lower court’s ruling has been overturned, the drivers now face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $1,500.
The complicating factor in this case is that Vermont treats a refusal to submit to a BAC test differently than most other states. The law in Vermont says that any driver without prior drunk driving convictions is allowed to refuse an officer’s request to submit to a chemical test. Not only are they allowed to refuse, but the refusal is not a crime, though it can be admitted into evidence later. However, the law says that it is a crime in Vermont to refuse to submit to an alcohol test in cases where the driver has a prior drunk driving conviction. These prior convictions also lead to enhanced penalties for future violations. The issue that the Vermont Supreme Court had to contend with was whether the initial drunk driving charge could work both ways, as a basis for the refusal charge for not taking a BAC test and also as the basis for enhanced penalties based on multiple offenses.
The lower court initially said no, but the Supreme Court changed course and said that the language of the state’s law clearly allows an initial DUI to be used for both purposes, as an element of a refusal charge and as a basis for enhanced criminal penalties.
Why Talk to a Minnesota DWI Attorney if you have prior DWI Convictions?
In Minnesota, if you are charged with a DUI offense and have a prior conviction for DWI or Refusal to test or have a prior license revocation for having a BAC of .08 or more or refusing to submit to a chemical test within ten years of the new offense date, you are subject to increased criminal and civil penalties which can be substantial. If you meet this criteria, feel free to contact our defense team for an initial free case review.
Source: “Vermont Supreme Court reverses local DUI rulings,” by Mike Faher, published at Reformer.com.