A bill requiring first-time DUI offenders in Ohio to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicles should see legislative action this fall.
But concerns about due process linger and could lead to some changes to the bill.
Current law allows judges to order use of the ignition interlocks, which require drivers to blow into a device that measures blood-alcohol levels before starting a vehicle. House Bill 469 would make it mandatory for first-time offenders, same as is now required for those convicted of DUI twice in six years.
Supporters, including the National Transportation Safety Board, gathered last week to encourage action on the bill, which would make Ohio the 23rd state to require the devices for first-time offenders. They call it a better option than a license suspension that is all too often ignored by violators.
Two decades of research has found that the devices reduce recidivism among DUI offenders by up to 75 percent, said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The bill has had a few committee hearings, and Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, a joint sponsor, said he is disappointed it did not pass before the summer break. But movement could come quickly when lawmakers return this fall.
“This is a great bill,” said Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, adding he’s optimistic the committee will move it. “Some members of the committee have concerns, and I’ve been meeting with them and will continue throughout the summer to arrive at a place where everybody is comfortable.”
The devices would be used for first-time DUI offenders instead of prohibiting them from driving for 15 days and then obtaining limited driving privileges for work, school and medical appointments.
Jon Saia, a Columbus defense attorney specializing in DUI cases, likes that part of the bill. But he thinks the legislation has a major problem in that it would allow judges to impose ignition locks when a defendant charged with DUI ultimately pleads to a reduced charge. That, he said, would impose an alcohol-related punishment for a non-alcohol-related conviction.
“There is no way that’s going to pass muster,” he said.
And if a defendant is facing the possibility of paying $80 a month for the ignition lock device over six to 12 months even with a reduced charge, Saia thinks it will push more cases to trial.
Asked about concerns, Johnson said the bill would save lives.
“You can think something as complicated as this bill and what it will do into the ground…and lose sight of the simplicity of what it actually does,” he said.
Rep. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, backs the bill but acknowledges there are due process concerns that may require some changes.
“The safety outweighs the due process for me,” Stinziano said. “I continue to look to other states where it’s been successful.”
The roughly $80-a-month cost of the device covers the cost of calibration. Saia also questions how much it would cost the state’s indigent defense fund for low-income defendants, though the state would qualify for a $688,000 federal grant to help pay for the law.
A driver must register a blood-alcohol content of less than .025 — less than half the .08 limit at which one is considered too intoxicated to drive — to turn the ignition.
The legislation has been named “Annie’s Law,” for 36-year-old Annie Rooney of Chillicothe, a prosecuting attorney who was killed in July 2013 by a drunken driver who had been arrested three times, with one conviction for DUI and two plea deals for lesser charges.
Her father, Dr. Richard Rooney, has pushed hard for the bill in an effort, he said, to ensure that his daughter did not die in vain. He points to statistics showing that as usage of ignition devices has risen, DUI fatalities have fallen.
“Our lives were shattered,” he said. “Annie’s memory has moved us to strengthen the law.”
By Jim Siegel - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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