Here Come the Feds…

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on November 28th, 2008

As everyone knows, in our federal system of government most laws are enacted and enforced by the individual states.  Burglary, murder, rape, larceny — all are defined, enforced and prosecuted by the state or local governments.  Until recently…

The laws, evidence and procedures concerning drunk driving are increasingly coming under the control of the federal government.  Over recent years, for example, the Feds have used the threat of withholding highway funds from states to force them to pass legislation championed by MADD.  Thus, for example,  South Carolina recently became the last state to cave in and adopt per se laws – driving with .08% blood-alcohol, even if sober.  All states have also now adopted Automatic License Suspension (ALS) laws, the immediate confiscation by police of driver's licenses of those suspected – not convicted – of having over .08%.  Again under federal/MADD pressure, almost all have passed zero tolerance laws lowering the blood-alcohol level to .01 or .02% for drivers under 21.  And so on…

Even the evidence in DUI cases is increasingly being dictated by the federal government.  Federal standardized field sobriety tests are being adopted across the country, and breath testing machines are now selected by state agencies from a list of federally-approved devices.

Eventually, as I've predicted in past posts (The Future of DUI), the federal government will simply federalize all state drunk driving laws, penalties and procedures — but, without the necessary law enforcement, court and jail facilities, they will still require the state to enforce those laws. 

Consider a couple of news stories just within the past five days:


State DUI Policies Criticized

Seattle, WA.  Nov. 24  –  As Thanksgiving approaches, state law enforcement is preparing for a less-than-loved holiday tradition — drunken driving. But, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, the state's laws aren't up to the challenge.

An NTSB review puts Washington among the 25 states that have not made changes to combat drunken driving that the federal safety board has recommended.

Acting board Chairman Mark Rosenker was expected to chastise the states during a meeting Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C.

Chief among the NTSB complaints against Washington is the state's reluctance to allow police to conduct sobriety checkpoints.

Washington's checkpoint law was struck down as unconstitutional in the late 1980s, and the state does not use them…

The NTSB also faulted the state for allowing plea bargains for first-time DUI defendants, not impounding cars driven by all drunken-driving suspects and failing to create a statewide system of DUI courts aimed at repeat offenders.


And…


NTSB: R.I. Not Doing Enough to Fight Drunken Driving

Providence, RI.  Nov. 28  – Federal transportation officials say Rhode Island’s efforts to curb drunken driving are falling short.

The National Transportation Safety Board this week said that Rhode Island is one of the bottom three states in the nation when it comes to following agency recommendations to address drunken driving accidents and deaths.

The safety board developed 11 recommendations in 2000 for how states could reduce alcohol-related crashes and fatalities. Rhode Island has enacted just two of them. Only Michigan and Montana have enacted so few.

Gabrielle Abbate, executive director of the state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said Rhode Island lacks legislative leadership when it comes to cracking down on drunken driving.


In the past, the federal government left the states to enact criminal laws, limiting its own jursidiction to those involving  federal interests such as counterfeiting, espionage and civil rights.  So, why the gradual takeover of DUI offenses?  

MADD, with annual revenues of about $52 million, continues to apply media and lobbying pressure — but has moved beyond their state legislatures to Congress and federal agencies.  And beaurocrats and elected representatives in Washington are just as frightened of MADD's witch-hunt as those in Sacramento or Albany.

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