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Does having harsher penalties for DUI work?

| Jun 22, 2015 | Firm News |

Every San Diego DUI is different.  Some cases have aggrevated facts while others really are not issues at all.  I had a case not too far back where the driver was charged with a DUI at 6am after pulling over and was sleeping when police woke him.  

The key is not harsher penalties but creating a better envionment where people will not be hurt by anothers bad decision.

DUIs have some of the severe penalties of their class of crimes.  It will be interesting to see what happens with DUI laws in the future.

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The numbers didn’t add up for D. Stephen Emi when he reviewed a recent study ranking Pennsylvania the third most lenient state in terms of driving under the influence penalties.

The online personal finance resource Wallet Hub listed Arizona as the strictest and placed Pennsylvania 48th, ahead of the District of Columbia and South Dakota. But Emi, executive director of the PA DUI Association, pushed for a higher ranking, saying the study was flawed.

“We are making significant progress at making sure the Commonwealth’s roads are safer,” said Emi. The non-profit association in Harrisburg provides technical assistance and support to professionals in the areas of alcohol-highway safety and highway safety.

DUI stats down

Between 2009 and 2013 the number of DUI arrests in the state decreased by 10.6 percent to 49,714 from 55,623, according to the data from the Pennsylvania State Police Uniform Crime Reports. In Luzerne County, the arrests dropped to 1,029 in 2013 from 1,179 in 2009, a decrease of 12.7 percent, according to the UCR.

Alcohol-related crashes dropped to 11,041 in 2013 from 11,956 in 2012, according to the PA DUI Association. Alcohol-related deaths also decreased to 381 from 404 during the same time frame.

Raw numbers were not considered in ranking the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Instead the study looked at what was on the books in 15 different categories and assigned points for factors such as jail time, fines and the use of a ignition interlock device in order to calculate a score. Arizona received 43.75 points out of a maximum 55 points. Pennsylvania tallied 13 points.

Laws at issue

Pennsylvania received zero for not having a minimum jail time for a first offense. In comparison, Arizona with its 10-day minimum received 10 points, according to the methodology used in the ranking. The study listed Pennsylvania as having a minimum fine of $300 for a first offense, above Arizona’s $250, resulting in each state earning one point.

The methodology shortchanged Pennsylvania, which has a three-tier grading and sentencing system based on the offender’s blood alcohol content level, Emi said. The higher the BAC, the stiffer the penalties and fines.

“It has a huge flaw by not understanding or being aware to the fact of the three-tier system,” Emi said.

Wallet Hub spokeswoman Jill Gonzalez responded that the study did take into account the tiers and was done to show which states did “the most as early and aggressively as possible” to discourage drinking and driving. It graded the first tier with the lowest BAC range as the minimum sentence and addressed the penalties in other tiers under the question, “Are there additional penalties for high BAC?”

“Pennsylvania was not treated differently,” she said.

There is no jail time for a first-time offender with a BAC of 0.08 percent – the level at which an adult driver in Pennsylvania is considered intoxicated – to less than 0.10 percent. In the second tier a first-time offender with a BAC of 0.10 percent to less than 0.16 percent faces between two days to six months in jail. In the third tier, someone with a BAC of 0.16 percent or higher faces between three days to six months in jail.

Fines follow a similar route. A first-time offender in the first tier is fined $300; second tier between $500 and $5,000; and third-tier $1,000 to $5,000.

The penalties and fines increase for each repeat offense over a 10- year period.

Emi pointed out that the majority of DUI offenses in the state are for people with a 0.16 or higher BAC and the average fine is approximately $2,500.

Ignition interlock

Pennsylvania law calls for installation of an ignition interlock device for a year, but only for repeat offenders.

The driver provides a breath sample for analysis by the device. If it registers above a set BAC limit, the vehicle will not start. Legislation pending in the state Senate and House of Representatives would make the device mandatory for first-time offenders with high BACs.

Since the state enacted the Ignition Interlock Device Act in 2000, motorists required to have them have driven “55 million sober miles,” Emi said.

Gonzalez explained that because the change has not become law, it was not a metric in the study.

Jail and fines are key and work in conjunction with other measures in effect in the state, Emi pointed out.

“We will never arrest our way out of the problem,” Emi said. That’s why the state employs a “health-legal approach” that combines punishment with treatment and counseling, he said. Saturation patrols and sobriety checkpoints also are effective tools used throughout the state.

Emi acknowledged progress has been made to address drunken driving and was pleased with the efforts, still there’s more work to be done to further reduce the numbers.

“We understand the concerns,” Gonzalez said of the reaction to the study, adding that it’s been mostly positive. It was the first year for the DUI study, and Wallet Hub is planning to do it annually, she said.

If you are charged with a San Diego DUI or other Criminal offense, you need to call our firm immediately. We are available to take action on your case today. Please email or call us at 858-751-4384 or email me at [email protected] to schedule a free consultation. The key is to be proactive.

The full article can be found here.

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