Three new bills crack down on drunk drivers

BATON ROUGE –– Governor Bobby Jindal has signed three bills into law to crack down on drunk drivers and make Louisiana’s roads safer.

The new laws will strengthen the current system and work to keep drunk drivers off the road and highlight the seriousness of drunk driving and how it can impact society.

The three bills include HB 444 by Rep. Perry, HB 445 by Rep. Baldone and SB 166 by Sen. Dupre.

HB 444 limits the scope of discovery prior to administrative hearings for driver’s license suspensions for those arrested for DWI – in order to streamline the process for bringing DWI offenders to justice.

When an individual is arrested for a DWI today, there is both a criminal process handled by the District Attorney and an “implied consent” hearing process on the suspension of driving privileges handled by the Department of Public Safety and Administrative Law Judge.The second part of the process provides for what’s known as “open discovery,” which facilitates the questioning of police officers on a host of issues beyond the purpose of the hearing. 

Because of the sheer number of hearings, law enforcement are frequently not represented – and if the officer fails to appear at the deposition or the pre-administrative hearing, defense attorneys move for dismissal of the driver’s license suspension.

Louisiana is the only state in the country that allows for a pre-hearing deposition that provides defense attorneys the opportunity to obtain a sworn statement from law enforcement – a statement that is not available to prosecutors.

HB 444 streamlines the process and restricts pre-hearing discovery to the deposition of non-law enforcement witnesses.

HB 445 strengthens the penalties for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer exam.  

As a condition of receiving a driver’s license, all Louisianians agree to provide a breath sample when properly requested. Blood Alcohol Content can be the most important piece of evidence in the trial, but without it, prosecution is very difficult. 

Currently, Louisiana has one of the highest rates of refusal to submit to a breathalyzer in the nation. In fact, the national average for refusal of the test is 22.4 percent, but in Louisiana, it is 39 percent.

Refusal is now distinct crime in 16 states and six states actually use warrants to forcibly obtain blood samples from drivers who refuse.   

With the signing of HB 445 into law, drivers’ license suspension penalties for refusing the breathalyzer will double from 180 days to one year on the first offense – and increase from 18 months to two years on the second offense.

Research shows that license suspensions can reduce fatal crashes by up to 9 percent, which could translate to saving 35 lives in Louisiana in just one year. 

SB 166 creates a law so that driving without a license that has been suspended due to a DWI arrest or conviction, is in and of itself a criminal offense with mandatory jail time. This new law provides real penalties for those drivers who continue to drive even after their license has already been suspended due to a DWI.

The National Transportation Safety Board has found that drivers with suspended or revoked licenses and a prior DWI are 4.4 times more likely to have been drinking at the time of a crash than those with a valid license and no prior DWI.

The new law outlines two categories of penalties.  The first is for DWIs and includes a minimum 15-day jail sentence without suspension and a maximum of six months. The second level of penalties will apply for cases where the driver’s license was suspended due to manslaughter, vehicular homicide, or negligent homicide resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle. This will require a 60-day jail sentence without suspension and up to a maximum of six months.

Individuals with a suspended license are eligible for a hardship driver’s license to allow them to work, bring their children to school, and be productive citizens.  This new law will not change that.

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