Archive for February 27th, 2005

New Concept: No License Suspension if You’re Not Guilty

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

In an earlier post I discussed one of many "DUI exceptions to the Constitution" — being punished twice for the same DUI offense. Due to federal "carrot-and-stick" pressures, the states today impose an immediate suspension of the driver's license if a driver is arrested for DUI and either tests .08% or higher or refuses to be tested. The two proceedings and penalties are separate and unrelated: if the charges are dropped in criminal court, for example, the license will remain suspended (and conversely, if the license suspension is reversed in an administrative hearing, the criminal court may nevertheless impose another suspension).

The courts initially had some trouble with this double jeopardy/punishment problem (some found it to be a violation of the Constitution), but eventually sidestepped it by simply playing with words: the immediate suspension is not a "punishment" but rather an "administrative sanction". But now along comes some North Dakota legislator with a frightening idea: if a citizen is not guilty of DUI, why should his license be suspended? From the Bismarck Tribune (Feb. 25, 2005):

North Dakotans who aren't successfully prosecuted for drunk driving should have any license suspension wiped from their record, says a state senator who believes Transportation Department officials treat some drivers unjustly.

"If you're not convicted, a jury of six peers says you're not guilty, guess what? Your license is still gone", said Senator Tom Trenbeath, R-Cavalier…. It got its first hearing in the Transportation Committee on Friday, where it drew opposition from parents and the state Department of Transportation, which handles license suspensions for DUI.

If a prosecutor decides on a plea bargain, or a jury feels sorry for someone, a drunken driver could have the slate wiped clean, agency official Keith Magnusson said. "There are people who don't like the administrative process", Magnusson said. "The reason they don't like it is because it works." A person suspected of drunk driving faces both the loss of his or her driver's license, and possible criminal prosecution by the local state's attorney….

Sen. Stanley Lyson, R-Williston, a sponsor of the bill and a former Williams County sheriff, said it is unfair to punish someone who is not convicted of DUI. "Remember this, we live in a country of laws, and if the law says you're not guilty, you're not guilty", Lyson said.

There is apparently little support for the bill and it is not expected to pass. But then, as someone once said, "If the Bill of Rights was introduced into Congess today, it would not make it out of committee".

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