No one disputes the fact that driving under the influence is a dangerous and irresponsible behavior that deserves punishment and needs to be stopped. More than a million people are arrested for this crime annually, but that’s only an incredibly tiny fraction of the number of people who say they’ve driven drunk each year, and innocents are still dying.
In fact, 82 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S. are caused by drunk drivers. That’s an incredible statistic. At least as bad is the fact that when drunk drivers kill someone in an auto accident, they are four times as likely to have had a previous DUI conviction than those involved in fatalities whose BAC is within the legal limit.
Because of the high number of repeat offenders and the destruction that they cause, states are scrambling to find ways to make their laws tougher – but sometimes they go too far.
Get Charged with a Montana DUI and You’ll Pay – And Keep Paying
After a rash of high-profile drunk driving deaths (and ranking first in the nation in DUI deaths per capita), Montana in 2011 decided to pass a tough new set of laws that basically required DUI defendants to continue to take an undefined number of Breathalyzer tests for an indeterminate length of time before they go to trial, similar to the way people convicted of certain kinds of drug use have to be continually tested to prove they’re clean. Called the 24/7 Sobriety Program, it passed by an overwhelming majority and was quickly instituted as the law of the land.
Lawmakers lauded the program for “keeping offenders clean” and being “essentially free” because it not only forced accused individuals to submit to ongoing testing, it demanded that they pay for this testing themselves. But those arguably positive things also ultimately proved to be the law’s downfall.
Remember Innocent Until Proven Guilty?
While Montana’s actions might have made sense as a way to curb the state’s problems with drinking and driving, this is a case where lawmakers overreached quite a bit. On February 5, 2014, a Montana judge determined that the 24/7 law was unconstitutional after an indigent man and his DUI lawyer fought back against the way he was being treated.
Under the law, Robert Spady was forced to take part in the 24/7 program for more than 100 days and pay more than $450 for tests. But when he missed or was late for testing, he was arrested on each occasion and charged with contempt of court. Keep in mind that not only is drinking alcoholnot illegal, but Spady had not even been convicted yet of driving under the influence. He was being forced to take part in and pay for this program when, under the eyes of the law, he was still innocent.
The judge’s reasons for halting the law were more specific. He argued that the unconstitutionality stemmed from vagueness and a lack of options more than anything, citing:
- Changing fees for alcohol testing
- An indeterminate length of time during which tests are administered
- An indeterminate number of tests
- The fact that the fees are not reimbursable
- A lack of clarity on what constitutes a second DUI offense
- Lack of an affordable sanction
Naturally, Montana is fighting the decision and the case is now going to the State Supreme Court, but it does represent a small victory in what has started to become a witch hunt against alleged drunk drivers. If you or someone you love has been charged with drunk driving, don’t let the system treat you like a criminal before you’ve even been convicted. We’ve successfully defended lots of people just like you, and we can help your case,as well.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.