Could DUI Fines be on the Upswing?

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

In a previous post, we covered potential costs of a DUI. That was based on our current understanding of California DUI law. However, Mississippi may be a trendsetter to legislatures throughout the country in increasing the fines and fees associated with a DUI arrest and conviction.

The Mississippi House of Representatives just passed House Bill 1445 which would essentially double the fine for DUI violations. The bill, which calls for the increase of the general fund amount for implied consent law violation, also known as driving under the influence, would, according to state assessment, increase the current fine of $243.50 to $493.50. The funding that is raised with the increase in fines would be used to support trauma care in the state.

During the House floor debate on the proposed law, Rep. Greg Haney (R-Gulfport) asked, “Are we doing this to just raise money or is it for safety?” Rep. Donnie Scoggin (R-Ellisville) admitted that it was a little of both.

Scoggin supported this answer with information and a little bit of history about the state’s trauma care system. The state of Mississippi’s statewide trauma care system was instituted in 1998 after the then-Governor Kirk Fordice and Lieutenant Governor Ronnie Musgrove received severe injuries in separate car crashes. According to the state’s Department of Health, as of Nov. 9th, 2018, there were 86 designated and participating hospitals in the Mississippi Trauma System of Care, with the University of Mississippi Medical Center the only Level 1 trauma hospital in the state.

Scoggin says that the fine wouldn’t fully fund trauma care in the state. However, the increase would bring it up to about three-quarters. He further stated that the original trauma funding bill from the mid-1990s actually listed the DUI fee at $500, but was reduced to its current $243.50.

A bill in 2017, had set the amount from the state’s general fund that could be used for the trauma system at $7,023,197 and reduced the overall spending for trauma care from $40 million to $20 million. Scoggin stated that raising the DUI fine for the purpose of supporting trauma care “…seems to be the right place to do this.”

In an attempt to further support the use of DUI fines for trauma care, Rep. Steve Holland (D-Plantersville) mentioned that crashes that are caused by impaired motorists are responsible for several of the trauma cases in the state.

According to the 2017 statistics by Mother Against Drunk Driving, there were 129 drunk driving deaths in the state of Mississippi and that 19 percent of traffic fatalities were connected to driving under the influence.

Although the lawmakers are attempting to tie drunk driving to the funding of trauma care, personally it seems to be contradictory. The raising of funds is important in making sure that severely injured have the best possible care in order to save lives and it makes sense that if raising a fine could help to support that, they should raise it where they can. However, something like a DUI fine is also imposed in order to dissuade people from breaking that law of driving under the influence. If, by raising the fine, it does what it was intended to do, namely to dissuade drivers from getting behind the wheel under the influence, then essentially, the state has less cases to collect the fine. Which in turn, would mean that the actual amount collect by fines is less than what was initially proposed or considered.

Perhaps it is designed to be a temporary remedy to the bigger issue of how to raise more money for the trauma center. Or perhaps the Mississippi legislature just sees an opportunity to collect from an easy target; DUI defendants.

In any event, if the bill is passed in the Senate and signed by the governor, then it would become effective July 1.

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How Does a DUI Affect Car Insurance?

Thursday, February 28th, 2019

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.

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North Dakota Bill Outlawing DUI Checkpoint Passes House

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Just take a look at last week’s post. According to statistics obtained by Insurify, an auto insurance comparison website, North Dakota was ranked as the worst state when it came to drunk drivers. 5.73% of people who responded to a questionnaire from Insurify indicated that they had a history of DUI. 24.7% of people reported drinking excessively. What’s more, nearly half of all fatal traffic collisions in the state involved alcohol.

Now, to some, this can be interpreted to suggest that North Dakota might need additional DUI enforcement and preventative measures such as DUI checkpoints. However, to others, like the North Dakota House of Representatives, the numbers are an indication that DUI checkpoints, as currently deployed, are not working in that state and maybe, just maybe, state funds should be allocated elsewhere.

North Dakota House Bill 1442, which would prohibit the use of DUI checkpoints in the state, was passed by a whopping majority of 79-14. It’s now headed to the state Senate for consideration.

While the Highway Patrol is not taking a stance on the issue, Fargo Police Chief David Todd and Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner oppose the legislation arguing that DUI checkpoints are tools necessary for law enforcement to stop and prevent drunk driving.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Rick Becker, however, claims that the argument that DUI checkpoints are an effective tool in combating DUI’s is “cliched” and have been “proven inadequate.” There’s something to be said about Beckner’s argument.

Between January 2017 and December 2018, the Highway Patrol conducted 16 DUI checkpoints in North Dakota, which only resulted in 17 DUI arrests. Only 17. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the 1,135 DUI arrests made in 2017 and the 1,158 DUI arrests made in 2018 by the Highway Patrol.

The ACLU of North Dakota issued the following statement regarding House Bill 1445:

“The ACLU of North Dakota supports House Bill 1442. Our constitutional right under the Fourth Amendment to live free of ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ is one of our most cherished – and most threatened. While traditional Fourth Amendment violations continue, new areas of concern crop us every day. We need to ensure that the Fourth Amendment, written over 200 years ago to protect our ‘persons, houses, papers, and effects’ from intrusive searches, evolves to protect today’s equivalents.”

The ACLU is alluding to the fact that the courts have in the past allowed law enforcement a freebie in stopping motorists (which under the law is a “detention”) without the normally-required probable cause and/or warrant when it comes to DUI checkpoints. The courts have continued to justify this exception to the constitution by claiming that the admitted invasion of privacy of the driver by law enforcement is outweighed by law enforcement’s interest is preventing drunk driving.

Matt Agorist, columnist for freedomoutpost.com, writing on this very topic said it best: “To those who would say, ‘if you are not doing anything wrong, you should have nothing to hide,” and support these checkpoints, you are the problem. Families do not draw the curtains in their homes at night because they are doing something wrong. One does not lock the bathroom door in public because they are doing something wrong. It is about maintaining, asserting, and protecting your rights – without being forced to lose your privacy.”

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States with the Most Drunk Drivers

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

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.

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Should Waze be Allowed to Post DUI Checkpoint Locations?

Monday, February 11th, 2019

I’m sure most of you have heard of Waze, possibly even use it yourself. On the off chance that you haven’t heard of it, Waze is a smartphone app developed by Google that provides real-time traffic information for drivers. Users simply plug in their destination address or location and Waze provides the quickest possible route using GPS and real-time user input while en route. While driving, not only are users directed to the fast route, but they are also made aware of upcoming traffic, obstacles in the road, street closures, and yes, police presence, including the location of DUI checkpoints.

The New York Police Department is not happy about it and is seeking to stop it.

The NYPD has sent a letter to Google demanding that it stops allowing users to post the location of DUI checkpoints claiming that the app is “encouraging reckless driving.”

“Individuals who post the locations of DWI checkpoints may be engaging in criminal conduct since such actions could be intentional attempts to prevent and/or impair the administration of the DWI laws and other relevant criminal and traffic laws. The posting of such information for public consumption is irresponsible since it only serves to aid impaired and intoxicated drivers to evade checkpoints and encourage reckless driving,” NYPD acting Deputy Commissioner Ann Prunty said in the letter to Google dated February 2.

Although Waze does not have a feature that specifically alerts drivers about upcoming DUI checkpoints, it does notify drivers of upcoming police presence.

“We believe highlighting police presence promotes road safety because drivers tend to drive more carefully and obey traffic laws when they are aware of nearby police. We’ve also seen police encourage such reporting as it serves as both a warning to drivers, as well as a way to highlight police work that keeps roadways safe,” a Waze spokesperson said in a statement to CNN last week. “There is no separate functionality for reporting police speed traps and DUI/DWI checkpoints — the Waze police icon represents general police presence.”

However, in Waze’s feature that displays upcoming police presence, users can report the presence of a DUI checkpoint as a comment about what they have observed including whether the police presence is a DUI checkpoint.

Law enforcement complaints on the posting of DUI checkpoint locations is nothing new. In July of 2016, the National Sheriff’s Association released a statement which said, “Evidence on social media shows that people who drink and drive use Waze’s police locator feature to avoid law enforcement. …The facts are clear. It is just a matter of time before we start seeing the dangers that lurk within the Waze app’s police locator feature.”

The California Supreme Court in the 1987 case of Ingersoll v. Palmer held that, for DUI checkpoints to be constitutional, they must meet the following criteria:

  1. The decision to conduct checkpoint must be at the supervisory level.
  2. There must be limits on the discretion of field officers.
  3. Checkpoints must be maintained safely for both the officers and the motorists.
  4. Checkpoints must be set up at reasonable locations such that the effectiveness of the checkpoint is optimized.
  5. The time at which a checkpoint is set up should also optimize the effectiveness of the checkpoint.
  6. The checkpoint must show indicia of official nature of the roadblock.
  7. Motorists must only be stopped for a reasonable amount of time which is only long enough to briefly question the motorist and look for signs of intoxication.
  8. Lastly, the Court in the Ingersoll decision was strongly in favor of the belief that there should be advance publicity of the checkpoint. To meet this requirement law enforcement usually make the checkpoints highly visible with signs and lights.

Three years later in the case of Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the United States Supreme Court held that the state’s interest in preventing drunk driving was a “substantial government interest.” It further held that this government interest outweighed motorists’ interests against unreasonable searches and seizures when considering the brevity and nature of the stop. In doing so, the court held that sobriety checkpoints were constitutional even though officers were technically violating the 4th Amendment.Having said all of that, nothing prevents a driver, nor should it, from letting others know when and where a DUI checkpoint is. Waze has not provided a feature that specifically points out DUI checkpoints. Rather, users can advise of DUI checkpoint locations in comments. How is this any different than speaking about police activity with friends and family in person, or in a text, or in an email? How is it any different that speaking about police activity on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? It isn’t any different, and to allow law enforcement to prevent such speech would be a violation of the 1st Amendment. Doing so would also open the door to allow law enforcement to dictate what we can or can’t say on our social media sites. That is not acceptable.

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