DWI testing needs more resources [UPDATED]Published 9:31am Friday, August 30, 2013 Updated 11:32am Friday, August 30, 2013
Recent legal wrangling about unconstitutional tests of suspected drunken drivers provides a classic case of how (and why) our three branches of government serve as checks and balances on each other.
More importantly, it shows Minnesota needs tougher drunken-driving penalties.
As noted in the Aug. 15 Times news report “Stearns County plays pilot in a new DWI environment,” the judicial branch has determined the executive branch (law enforcement) no longer should be allowed to penalize DWI suspects who refuse chemical tests after a traffic stop. The result is search warrants must be acquired to get blood samples when suspects refuse to give them voluntarily.
As the news report showed, that requirement is creating a variety of challenges for law enforcement and judges. Solving those challenges not only uses more taxpayer resources, it keeps police and the courts from more important matters.
In the long run, this increased hassle factor might even dissuade law enforcement from targeting drunken driving. Indeed, it’s not hard to envision an already overworked police officer being a bit reluctant to stop a suspect if the officer knows it might involve waking up a judge at 2:30 a.m.
So it’s time for the third branch of government — in this case the Minnesota Legislature — to step in and make accountability for drunken driving even more costly. Stronger sentences must be adopted immediately, especially for repeat offenders.
The goal is obvious: Make drunken driving so costly people will not even think of attempting it, much less refusing a test and forcing police and judges to do more work.
Minnesota’s consequences vary for each DWI offender, but a typical penalty for a first-time offender is potential jail time and loss of license for a minimum of 30 days up to a year. Costs are estimated as high as $20,000 when factoring court costs, legal fees and increased insurance premiums.
What if that license suspension lasted six months? What if that was followed by mandatory use of ignition interlock devices?
These devices won’t allow a vehicle to start if alcohol is detected via a breath test. Arizona implemented them in 2007 and drunken driving deaths have decreased by 46 percent. Minnesota requires them for repeat offenders and first-time offenders caught with 0.16 blood-alcohol levels.
Similarly, what if jail time was mandatory and significant? And costs rose to $40,000?
Again, these moves seem harsh. But with the courts rightly putting a premium on protecting an individual’s constitutional rights, it’s time for the legislative branch to increase the premium paid for those who still do choose to drive drunk.
— St. Cloud Times