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The New DUI Laws In Idaho Are A Mess And You Should Be Upset

Posted by William Young | Jan 04, 2019 | 0 Comments

Starting January 1st, all first time DUI offenders in Idaho will be required to install an interlock device in their vehicle.

An interlock device requires the operator to blow into the system before the vehicle will function; if the device finds alcohol in the driver's system the vehicle will not function. Previously, individual judges had the discretion to decide if an interlock device was necessary on a case-by-case basis. For the most part, this meant that interlock devices were only required for repeat offenders.

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Problems Created By This Law

As with all new legislation, there will probably be a great deal of kinks to work out over the next year or more. Many of these problems would be difficult for people who are not judges or criminal attorneys to anticipate at the time of its passage (easily preventable if they discussed the law with those who would be using it beforehand) these problems may come from the language of this law or how this law interacts with other laws currently in place. These sorts of problems are tolerated and can be fixed by additional legislation. However, there are quite a few big picture problems with this law that should have been anticipated by the legislature and we should all hold their feet to the fire for failing to consider them.

This Law Will Do Little (Or Nothing) Other Than Burden People And The Courts

First, from a practical standpoint this law does not change much. A first time DUI conviction requires the court to suspend the defendant's drivers license for a minimum of 90 days and up to one year. In nearly all these cases the courts sentence the defendant to a 180 day drivers license suspension. This means that in nearly all cases, the first half of the time the defendant is required to have an interlock device installed they can't drive anyway because their drivers license is suspended.

Interlock devices have always been a potential punishment of a first time DUI offense. There are many types of punishments, treatments, and tools at the court's discretion when sentencing on a DUI case. The judge evaluates the facts of the case, the defendant, and listens to argument from both sides before handing down a decision. Interlock devices have always been one of the tools available to the judge at sentencing - If the judge determined that an interlock device is an appropriate punishment they would require it from the defendant.

Second, in many DUI cases an interlock device would serve absolutely no purpose. Not all DUIs involve alcohol. As law enforcement will tell you, you can get a DUI for the consumption of any substance that causes "impairment." I have even heard a number of police officers testify that water, in large enough quantities, can cause impairment and lead to a DUI.  A growing number of DUIs today are caused by prescription medications. A reaction caused by prescription medication even in the correct doses, such as situations involving a new medication, a reaction to something you consumed along with the medication, or even lack of sleep, can land you in jail facing a DUI charge. In all the cases where some other substance than alcohol was the cause of the DUI conviction, a interlock device is not only counter-intuitive, it is a waste of valuable resources. Interlock devices do not detect any other substance besides alcohol. They will not prevent future non-alcohol DUIs and are an inappropriate measure when alcohol was never involved in the first place. 

Even in alcohol related cases, this law will likely have little to no effect on reducing the number of DUIs. There is a reason that judges have only rarely chosen to utilize interlock devices on first time DUIs prior to this - they do not do what the legislature claims. Keep in mind these are installed after the first DUI conviction and will typically be in place for a year following the conviction. As previously explained, the Defendant will only have a license for the second half of that year - so really we are only talking about the interlock device "preventing" DUIs during months 6-12 after the conviction. Most first time DUI offenders simply made a very poor decision. They did not intend to drink and get behind the wheel, many even thought they were under the legal limit of .08. Some of these individuals need alcohol counseling, but most need nothing more than a serious wake up call to never drive intoxicated again. Only about 20% of all individuals who are convicted of a DUI commit another DUI offense in the next 10 years - https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/811991-dwi_recidivism_in_usa-tsf-rn.pdf. This includes people who are committing this offense for their 3rd time, 4th, 5th, etc. The percentage of first time offenders who re-offend within 10 years is closer to one in seven, or 15%. Keep in mind this is within 10 years. The percentage of first time offenders who re-offend within 12 months is MUCH smaller. In my research I was unable to find a firm number for this (especially in reference to Idaho) but from what can glean, only about 2%-3% of first time DUI offenders commit a second DUI within one year of their date of conviction. In 2015 there were 5,844 DUI arrests in the state of Idaho (https://backgroundchecks.org/which-states-have-the-worst-dui-problems.html). Even if we assume that 4,000 of these convictions (roughly 70%) were in cases involving first time offenders, the new law in Idaho would reduce the number of DUIs in Idaho by around 1.7%. Not quite as effective as the legislature is claiming is it? There must be a more effective way to be dealing with this problem.

The Interlock Requirement Unjustly Punishes Individuals With Limited Means And Will Force Others Into Poverty

This law unjustly punishes the poorest of Idaho communities. Interlock devices are very expensive to install and require regular monthly maintenance (also very expensive). While this probably has auto mechanics jumping for joy with the new income this law creates, realistically this law has the effect of punishing people with limited means. The defendant, not the county or the state are required to pay for the cost of an interlock device. Although some financial aid will be available the bill made it clear that this funding is going to be very difficult to access and will not be available to most people. State Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, may not think that “the issue of financial hardship was at least a current issue” because “the cost has become much more reasonable than it used to be" many people would disagree. In Idaho most interlock devices cost $100 - $200 to install and around $80 per-month to maintain and calibrate. Over the course of a year this cost exceeds $1000, and that is on top of the thousands of dollars in fines, fees, and costs that are a normal part of a DUI conviction and probation (the average is somewhere around $3000). These costs will put many people in financial dire straights, if they can afford it at all.

Matthew Conde, public affairs director for AAA Idaho went so far as to justify this expense by saying that it would actually save people money because many DUI offenders spend $12 to $13 a day on alcohol. This clear propaganda makes me shake my head in frustration and disbelief. People who spew this type of misinformation should be ashamed. First, we are talking about first time DUI offenders. These are not typically people who struggle with significant alcohol addiction issues as Conde is implying. As part of any DUI conviction in Idaho the defendant is required to get an alcohol evaluation to determine if substance abuse issues are a concern. This evaluation finds low risk of substance abuse in the vast majority of first time DUI convictions (what they call "level .5"). Second, interlock systems prevent people from driving, not from drinking. If someone has such a significant alcohol addiction that they are spending $12 to $13 per-day (I don't know where he pulled these numbers from but this would be a very significant addiction), the interlock device will do nothing to treat them for this addiction. The alcohol expenditure will continue, this would just be a cost on top of that. 

If you do not have the money to pay for the installation or maintenance on this device you will lose your ability to drive altogether - making it very hard to get or maintain employment (which is already hard enough with a DUI conviction). In essence, the individuals who can not afford this device are stuck making an impossible decision - break the law again by driving a vehicle without this device or lose the employment opportunities that allow them to provide for their families.

Even many of those individuals who can afford the cost of the interlock device will end up losing their jobs due to this new law. Many people are required to drive as part of their job or have access to a company vehicle. While there are times that an employer will fire any employee who gets a DUI, there are also employers who find ways to deal with this situation without terminating the employee. Unpaid leave, temporary change in job duties, teaming up with another employee when driving in necessary, etc are all methods I have seen put in place. However, these are all temporary stopgaps during the 3 or 6 month period that the employee's drivers license is suspended. This new law will change all of that. Not only is the employer going to have to accommodate the 90-180 days license suspension, they will be forced to install an interlock device on the company vehicles the employee uses to fulfill their job responsibilities. Most employers will be unwilling to spend the time, money, and energy to keep this employee on staff. This will lead to a much higher percentage of fist time offenders losing their jobs due to the conviction (thus leading to the situation from the previous paragraphs). ...And before you supporters out their start talking about this being a deterrence, no one has ever considered the possibility of losing their job when they are driving home from a dinner where they had a couple glasses of wine - this will not deter future DUIs.

This Takes The Decision As To Whether An Interlock Device Is Needed, Or Even Appropriate, Out Of The Hands Of Those Who Are Most Qualified

This new law takes the decision out of the hands of the person who most qualified to determine if an interlock device is appropriate - the judge. The judge is the person who is literately elected or appointed to evaluate these type of issues and make the determination as to what will best punish the defendant and protect the community moving forward. I may not always like the decision judges make when going through this process, but at least the decision is being made by someone who has a careers worth of experience making these decisions and can look at the facts and circumstance of each individual case rather than making a blanket decision. Every case is unique, the appropriate sentence should be tailored to match these unique circumstances.

This Law Will Create A Large Burden On The System

 For those of you that have not been to the local courthouse lately, it is packed. Standing room only at times. It is a problem and the legislature should be looking to reduce this burden, not increase it.

Yes, this law is supposed to reduce DUI cases and, as such, reduce the burden on our criminal justice system. As discussed before, this reduction in cases in much smaller than supporters would have you believe but there is also something else to consider: who is going to be monitoring these devices and whether or not defendants have installed them in their vehicle? This, like everything else, requires resources in the form of time, energy, and, of course, money. Likely, this job will fall to the Department of Probation - an entity that is already considerably overtaxed. In order to do this properly, the court is likely going to have to place the first time offenders on supervised probation rather than unsupervised probation. This increases the cost to the defendant (monthly supervision fees) but, by using the number from the previous section, this will create 4000 additional probationers per year to be supervised. I hope the legislature added some funding for the hiring of tens and possibly hundreds of new employees (pssss - they didn't).

The long and short of it is: this law is not good for anyone. If you take away nothing else, invest in companies that make interlock devices - it sounds like they are going to sell several thousand more units per year in Idaho alone.

About the Author

William Young

Idaho Criminal Defense and Civil Litigation Attorney. Although I do a little bit of everything in my practice, I focus primarily on Criminal Defense and Civil Litigation. I am licensed to practice, and have a record of success, in both state and federal court.

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