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How Does a DUI Affect Car Insurance?

When one gets pulled over and subsequently arrested for an alleged DUI, what are some of the first things that run through their head? “Oh no, I’m in trouble,” “I am going to jail,” “I need a lawyer” are probably a few. However, after the initial shock wears off, that person eventually gets to realizing the potential fines and legal fees that go along a DUI conviction. Those fines and fees are typically a one-time expense. But there is one cost that often gets over looked and is one that affects your life for 10 years after the DUI; car insurance.

In January of 2007, new legislation required that DUI offenses be a part of your public driving record and remain on that record for 10 years from the violation date. The legislation was changed in order to allow car insurance companies access to driving records so that they could apply the new provisions that were added in 2005 in the Insurance Code under Senate Bill 597, primarily dealing with “good driver” discounts. Under the law, good driver discounts would not apply to drivers with DUI offenses within the past 10 years. In other words, because the discount you previously received for being a good driver will not apply, your car insurance premium will go up, at minimum, the amount of that previous discount.

Losing the discount is not the only reason your car insurance premiums may go up. Having a history of DUI suggests to the car insurance company that you are at a higher risk of being in an accident. It’s no surprise that having a higher blood alcohol content will hinder basic motor skills and therefore negatively affect your ability to operate a vehicle, thus leading to a higher chance of being involved in a collision. And having a higher risk of being in an accident means that the insurance company has more to lose with you behind the wheel. The insurance companies are not allowed to cancel your insurance mid-policy due to a DUI conviction, but they will definitely reconsider your premiums when the renewal comes around. As such, your premiums will more than likely go up. Although it will depend on your insurance company, on average, an increase of a few hundred dollars is likely. Some, however, can increase as much as a couple thousand dollars.

Assuming for argument’s sake that your insurance only increases a few hundred dollars, that few hundred dollars might seem doable, but remember, your status as a “high risk” driver stays with you regardless of whether you change insurance companies for 10 years. With that label lasting 10-years, you are looking at a quite a few thousand dollars of a difference in total. Now, imagine what it would be if the increase is more than a few hundred dollars.

If you are convicted of a DUI, you may want to shop around for car insurance. With this new dent in your record, there may be other policies that won’t make as much of a dent in your wallet.

It may seem like a lot of work, and more money than someone might want to dish out for a DUI, but taking the time to research a good DUI lawyer will also probably be worth it. If the right circumstances are aligned in your case, your lawyer may be able to get your DUI charge down to a “wet reckless” (See the post What are the Benefits (and Disadvantages) of a Wet Reckless? for details on wet reckless). One of the advantages of being able to reduce your DUI to a charge of wet reckless is that the conviction will stay on your record for only seven years, rather than the 10 years that a DUI conviction requires. Obviously, it would depend on your car insurance, but the additional cost of paying for a good DUI lawyer, may outweigh the cost of paying an additional three years of increased premiums.

Suffice it to say, that extra six-dollar beer is not worth the few thousand dollar increase in insurance premiums that a DUI conviction will bring with it, or all of the time and research you will have to put into finding yourself a good lawyer, or the time and research in possibly finding new insurance to make sure you are able to keep your premium increase to a minimum.

States with the Most Drunk Drivers

Insurify, an auto insurance quotes comparison website, used questionnaire information gathered from their over 1.6 million car insurance shoppers, excessive drinking and traffic fatality information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and population information from the United States Census Bureau to determine a national rate of DUI history as well as a breakdown by state. Alaska was omitted from the analysis due to insufficient data.

Insurify’s team of data analysts analyzed approximately seven years of driver history and came to some interesting conclusions. The nationwide average of their applicants who reported a prior DUI was 2.15 percent. Northern states seemed to cement their spots as DUI territory and some of the least populated states seemed to have some of the highest number of DUIs. The team also found a moderate correlation between the rates of DUI, excessive drinking, and alcohol-related traffic deaths. Resulting in a reasonably predictable assumption that in the states with higher DUI count, the rates of drinking and alcohol-related driving deaths will also be higher.

According to the CDC, 18 percent of Americans drink excessively on a regular basis across the country. Of the top 10 states that Insurify came up with, six of the states contained cities that fell within 10 percent of the country for excessive drinking and up to 26.5 percent of adult residents reporting over-drinking.

The data analyzed by Insurify resulted in following the rankings and numbers:

10. Colorado

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.13%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 34.7%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 19.1%

9. Iowa

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.23%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 25.4%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 21.0%

8. Nebraska

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.34%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 35.6%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 20.4%

7. Minnesota

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.47%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 30.9%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 21.1%

6. Idaho

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.49%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 32.4%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 15.4%

5. Montana

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 3.61%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 46.3%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 21.8%

4. Wisconsin

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 4.07%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 36.9%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 24.5%

3. South Dakota

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 4.12%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 35.2%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 17.7%

2. Wyoming

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 5.56%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 35.3%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 17.5%

1. North Dakota

            – Drivers reporting a history of DUI: 5.73%

            – Traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 46.7%

            – Adults reporting excessive drinking: 24.7%

In looking at the numbers from the top 10 percentage of drivers reporting a history of DUI, to say there is a correlation between the number of drivers with a history of DUI and number of traffic fatalities, and reports of excessive drinking seems to be an understatement. But it does bring up some interesting questions. How was excessive drinking defined in the questionnaire? Did multiple offenses by the same driver also constitute as excessive drinking? Given the data patterns found, it would be interesting to further analyze how each state has differed in handling their DUI numbers and if differences in legislation has contributed to any of these numbers or if it strictly correlates to things such as population and access to public transportation.

New Jersey Forensic Lab Scandal Likely to Affect Thousands of DUI Cases

People’s opinions and memories are subjective, which is why in the court of law, science and factual evidence is often the nail in the coffin, so to speak. If DNA evidence from a suspect matches the one said to have been found at the scene of the crime, even when the suspect “does not remember” being there, doubt gives way in favor of the DNA evidence. However, what if there was reason to believe that the lab mislabeled the samples, or that the machine that ran the tests were never cleaned or not properly calibrated? Now, what was once factual evidence is now less than reliable, perhaps even completely inaccurate.

Lab technicians are human. Therefore, no matter how careful one may be, it is undisputed that there is always the chance of human error. Unfortunately, however, there is difference between innocent human error and a concerted effort to undermine forensic testing in criminal cases, including DUI cases.  

If you have read our articles in the past, it should come as no surprise that another forensic lab, this time in New Jersey, has made a conscious effort to allow inaccurate evidence to pass through the lab doors and entered in court to convict drivers in drunk driving cases within that state.

Many of the breathalyzers used across the country are manufactured by Alcotest. This machine, although fairly accurate when used correctly, needs to be calibrated to ensure its accuracy. Sergeant Marc Dennis of the New Jersey State Police’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Unit was responsible for conducting tests twice a year on machines for five different counties to determine if recalibration was needed and to administer the recalibration where necessary. It was found that Dennis did not perform the required calibrations and, to make matters worse, he also falsely certified the accuracy of the machines in the paperwork filed with the state. Thousands of people in the state of New Jersey were convicted based on the results of these uncalibrated machines. Dennis was criminally charged with misconduct and tampering with public records in September of 2018 and the New Jersey State Administrative Office of the Courts was notified by the attorney general’s office that over 20,000 breath samples were in question.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered an extensive hearing regarding the failure to follow proper calibration procedures by Sergeant Dennis. The state Division of Criminal Justice brought the charge, but the division’s director stated that the omission of the calibration step does not undermine the credibility of any of the State Police test results. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined in their opinion issued in December 2018 that the some 20,000 breath tests done by the uncalibrated machines could not be trusted.

All of those cases will need to be reviewed, and there is a high probability that many of those cases will be dismissed.

Whether Dennis’s actions (or lack thereof) came from laziness or as a means to advance his career, such misconduct is sadly not uncommon. There have been other reported cases of forensic misconduct in the New Jersey State Police, as well as other states such as Massachusetts, Oregon and Texas. Although in Dennis’s case, his actions were noticed by a supervisor who is said to have “immediately reported to internal affairs,” the truth is his actions went unnoticed for years.

Back in 2009, the U.S. National Research Council gave a report regarding forensic practices across the country. What they found was a lack of accreditation for crime labs and lack of certification for forensic scientists. Instead of having the ability to rely on evidence being produced by forensic labs, whose precise job it is to produce accurate scientific evidence, we’re left wondering if further investigation needs to be done to determine if the lab is doing what it should be doing to ensure the reliability of the evidence it is processing.

Movement towards forensic reform slowly gained momentum after this report and in 2016, the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology relayed similar concerns in a report and requested an independent oversight commission for labs across the country. Unfortunately for the reform movement, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, shut down the National Commission on Forensic Science in 2017, effectively also shutting down the idea for a national independent oversight committee.

Although we may have stalled, or possibly even have taken a few steps back, with regard to ensuring the reliability of forensic labs throughout the country, hopefully states will take these scandals as a wake-up call to adopt better measures of ensuring reliability of their forensic testing. In the meantime, the legal system runs the risk of wrongfully convicting drunk drivers, or any criminal suspect for that matter, and defense counsel should do everything in their power to make sure that faulty evidence be identified and thrown out.

Oregon State Crime Lab Backlog May Affect DUI Cases

The Oregon State Police crime lab is behind on its testing, way behind, and it’s affecting DUI cases in the state.

The chemical tests for motorists accused of driving under the influence has a backlog of about 14 months. While that is bad, it’s better than some departments within the lab such as property crimes, where they no longer process DNA for property crimes such as theft to allow more focus on other cases, such as sexual assault. This is problematic since the statute of limitations (the time period for which a prosecutor can file a criminal case) on a case might, and in many cases will run, without having the evidence tested.

Oregon’s Linn County District Attorney’s office handled more than 500 DUI cases in 2018. Alcohol related cases can use breathalyzers as evidence without the need for a crime lab. However, not all of the DUI cases that the DA’s office handles are alcohol related. About half of the DUI cases in Linn County involve other drugs where levels are determined by urine tests. The current backlog of 14 months is still within the standard statute of limitations of two years, so cases can still likely be filed. In its current state and with crime never ceasing, the crime lab is undoubtedly overworked, understaffed, and limited with what they can do. Therefore, the statute of limitations for some of those DUI’s may too come and go, which is unfair to both the prosecutors as well as the accused.

Although representatives of the District Attorney’s office were unaware of any cases directly being impacted by the turnaround time of the lab, Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson said, “The turnaround time for the lab is impacting our office because we’re having to wait for extended periods of time. But it’s critical for me to note that the [Oregon State police] crime lab, no matter how well they do their job, they have a finite capacity. and when that finite capacity is exceeded, the impact for us is the delay on having the lab work done.”

However, Haroldson also went on to say that, although a statute of limitation may not have run, suspects should not have to wait that long to be formally charged.

“Part of seeking justice is doing all we can to make sure that our systems are fair to everyone, including the accused. Long delays do not represent the best work that we can do if we were properly funded,” said Haroldson.

It was also noted that the testing delays can also lead to increased risks to the public as motorists who were suspected of driving under the influence will not have their licenses suspended until the charges have at least been filed. One county had at least four drivers who were arrested twice for DUI during 2018 and whose cases were yet to be settled as their lab results were still pending months later.

With Oregon’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2015, the number of requests for toxicology tests have only continued to increase. As Oregon’s population also continues to rise, it can be anticipated that the growth in demand for the lab’s services will also continue to rise. Although science and technology have evolved to make some of the processes go much smoother and faster, toxicology result turnaround times still take much longer than our TV crime solvers make us believe. What’s more, costs are still too high to effectively rely on outsourcing as part of the solution.

Amanda Dalton, a lobbyist on behalf of the Oregon District Attorney Association, says that the association is hoping to change the backlog situation through current legislation.

“We believe delayed testing is a crisis as it relates to DUI prosecution and overall community safety and that [the Oregon State Police] is doing all they can with the resources they currently have,” said Dalton.

Although the Oregon District Attorneys Association realizes that the legislation currently proposed will not solve the problem, they maintain hope that it will, at a minimum, start the conversation that will eventually lead to the appropriate funding to fix the issues.

 

Struggles of Finding a Legal Limit and Test for Marijuana

During this past New Year’s holiday, the Los Angeles Police Department utilized a new portable oral test that is able to check for the presence of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and other drugs in a person’s system. In their attempt to start aggressively enforcing impaired driving laws, they decided to use this test at New Years’ checkpoints even though the test had only been used about 50 times prior. Prosecutors hope that this eight-minute oral fluids test will eventually become an effective indicator of impairment of drugs, though they have yet to use any results from these tests as evidence in their cases.

Although this test does have the capability of checking for the presence of THC, which is the component most identified with the use of marijuana and which causes the psychoactive effects of marijuana, it does not test for impairment from THC. However, since the legalization of recreational marijuana in several states, experts have struggled to determine an appropriate level of use that would consistently label a person to be “impaired.”

It is undoubtedly important for law makers to be presented with research that helps to determine at what level of THC presence that will cause a person’s impairment. Without this, the current legal terminology of “under the influence” is extremely subjective. Unlike the research with alcohol that determined that there is a strong correlation between impairment and blood alcohol levels higher than 0.08, the research with THC levels are still inconclusive. Both neuroscientists and pharmacologists are having difficulties determining to what extent the drug can impair a person’s ability to drive as well as an appropriate way to measure it. Private companies are currently working on a breathalyzer to test for impairment similar to that used in alcohol related cases, however, the results are still not as definitive as the tests used to determine impairment of alcohol.

In the interim, the Legislature’s Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving is recommending mandatory drug testing for stoned drivers under the threat of license suspension. Law enforcement insists that this is the best way to keep stoned drivers off the road.

The threat of losing one’s license may be an effective way to keep stoned drivers off the streets, but at this point in time, it also comes with a multitude of issues, including those that make the tests unconstitutional. For one, it is still unconstitutional to force a blood draw or saliva test without a warrant.

An additional issue is that unlike alcohol that metabolizes fairly quickly and at a measurable rate, THC can last in one’s body for days, even weeks. The “recommended” tests may undoubtedly accurately measure the amount of THC in the body, but there is still no measurement for impairment. ACLU Field Director Matt Allen, who is a member of the special commission stated, “We want to ensure that if motorists are faced with penalties such as losing their license for not taking a drug test that that test is scientifically proven to measure impairment.” However, he was the lone “no” vote on the recommendation.

The scientific community is undoubtedly working on the answer. Hopefully sooner rather than later, the public will be presented with a fairly accurate level of what impairment under the influence of marijuana means. Without it, it is not only law enforcement who is at a loss for efficiently assessing impairment, but all responsible users who lack a point of reference of this newly legal drug to make sure that they are not inadvertently putting the public in danger. Until then, we cannot arbitrarily punish people who have THC in their system, but are not impaired by it.