Category Archives: Bellingham

State Senate Passes Bill Making Fourth DUI a Felony.

Image result for dui and politics

The WA State Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would make driving under the influence (DUI) a felony if the driver has three or more prior offenses on their criminal record within 10 years.

Senate Bill 5037 passed Thursday and now heads to the House, where it has stalled in previous years. The bill’s sponsors are as follows: Padden, Frockt, O’Ban, Darneille, Miloscia, Kuderer, Zeiger, Carlyle, Pearson, Conway, Rolfes, Palumbo, Angel, and Wellman.

Under the measure, a person who is charged with a fourth DUI, and has no other criminal history, would be subject to a standard sentencing range of 13 to 17 months in jail.

However, this bill allows first-time felony offenders to spend up to six months in jail, instead of nine, and finish out the rest of their sentence under supervision, such as attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other programs.

My opinion? We shouldn’t be surprised. Over the past 20 years, Americans have seen a significant increase in the harsh penalties for intoxicated drivers. Perhaps this is necessary move given the thousands of lives lost to drunk drivers. Speaking as a criminal defense attorney, there’s serious question as to whether people commit these violations purely out of willful disregard for the law and for the safety of others or because of an untreated mental illness or alcohol addiction. Nevertheless, public outcry has led to increased sentences.

Many attorneys in Whatcom County and Skagit County claim to represent clients in DUI cases, but not all attorneys have the experience and successes of attorney Alexander F. Ransom.  To learn more about DUI laws or if you have been charged with a driving offense, make your first call count. Call the Law Office of Alexander F. Ransom today.

Diminished Capacity Defense Denied

Image result for diminished capacity

In a deeply divided decision of 5-4, = the WA Supreme Court held in State v. Clark that the defendant’s Diminished Capacity defense was properly excluded at trial, even though lay witnesses could testify that the defendant was “slow,” participated in special education, and received Social Security disability benefits.

The defendant Anthony Clark killed the victim, D.D., with a single gunshot to the back of his head. D.D.’s body was found in a garbage can behind the triplex apartment building where Clark lived. There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting other than Clark himself. The State theorized that Clark killed D.D. with premeditation in order to steal D.D.’s gun and cocaine. Clark contended the shooting was an accident. The primary disputed issue was thus Clark’s level of intent.

CHARGES

Clark was charged with premeditated first degree murder, first degree felony murder, first degree robbery, unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and second degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Clark pleaded not guilty on all counts.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Before trial, the defense moved to suppress statements Clark made to police after the shooting, contending that he did not validly waive his Miranda rights before speaking to police. To support its motion, the defense offered an expert evaluation from a doctor. At the suppression hearing, Dr. Oneal testified that Clark scored in the bottom first to third percentile in standardized intelligence tests. The court found that Dr. Oneal was a credible witness but denied Clark’s motion to suppress.

The State then moved to exclude testimony about Clark’s “intellectual deficits” for trial purposes. However, Clark argued that the doctor’s testimony was admissible for three purposes: (1) to help the jury understand Clark’s affect during testimony, (2) to explain why Clark does not work, and (3) to contest the State’s evidence of intent.

The court granted the State’s motion in part and excluded the doctor’s expert testimony because, in light of the fact that Clark specifically disavowed any intention to argue diminished capacity, expert testimony on Clark’s intellectual deficits would be irrelevant and confusing to the jury. It did, however, allow for relevant observation testimony bearing on Clark’s intellectual deficits, including his participation in special education, his receipt of Social Security disability benefits, and “that people who knew him considered him slow or tended to discount his testimony.”

JURY TRIAL

At trial, the defense renewed its request to admit the doctor’s expert testimony; arguing that the testimony was necessary to rebut the State’s evidence of intent and to explain Clark’s affect when he testified. Nevertheless, the defense consistently maintained that it was not asserting diminished capacity. The court adhered to its ruling excluding the doctor’s testimony and reminded counsel that relevant observation testimony by lay witnesses was admissible.

The defense brought testimony that Clark had been in special education, had an individualized education plan, and received Social Security disability benefits. It relied on this evidence in its closing argument, emphasizing that Clark was “not your average 20 year old” and arguing that in light of Clark’s actual intellectual abilities, the State had not proved intent to commit murder.

Clark was convicted of premeditated first degree murder as charged, as well as all the other charged counts.

ISSUES ON APPEAL

  1. Did the trial court properly exclude expert testimony regarding Clark’s intellectual deficits?
  2. Was trial counsel ineffective for failing to object when the State informed prospective jurors that it was not seeking the death penalty?
  3. Did cumulative error deprive Clark of his right to a fair trial?

ANALYSIS

1. The Court Properly Excluded Expert Testimony of Diminished Capacity Evidence.

The Court gave background that under ER 702, expert testimony is admissible “if scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” It also reasoned that diminished capacity “allows a defendant to undermine a specific element of the offense, a culpable mental state, by showing that a given mental disorder had a specific effect by which his ability to entertain that mental state was diminished.” Also, the intent to assert diminished capacity must be declared before trial. Pretrial disclosure is required because when asserting diminished capacity, the defense must obtain a corroborating expert opinion and disclose that evidence to the prosecution pretrial, giving the State a reasonable opportunity to decide whether to obtain its own evaluation depending on the strength of the defense’s showing,” citing CrR 4.7(b).

Ultimately, the Court rejected Clark’s arguments that his doctor’s expert testimony should have been admitted for the purpose of rebutting the State’s evidence of intent.

“However, expert opinion testimony that a defendant has a mental disorder that impaired the defendant’s ability to form a culpable mental state is, by definition, evidence of diminished capacity. And where, as here, the defense does not plead diminished capacity, such testimony is properly excluded.”

Additionally, the Court rejected Clark’s arguments that his doctor’s testimony should have been admitted for the purpose of explaining Clark’s unusually flat affect while testifying:

“The jury had the ability to evaluate Clark’s affect to the same extent it had the ability to evaluate the affect of every testifying witness, and Clark has not shown that Dr. Oneal’s expert testimony would have been helpful for that purpose.”

2. Defense Counsel Was Not Ineffective for Failing to Object When the State Informed Prospective Jurors It Was Not Seeking the Death Penalty.

The Court gave background that in order to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show that trial counsel’s performance was “deficient,” and that, “but for counsel’s deficient performance, there is a ‘reasonable probability’ that the outcome would have been different.”

Here, the Court reasoned there was no indication that the jury disregarded its instructions or paid less attention to the evidence presented throughout Clark’s trial because it was told that the death penalty was not at issue.  Additionally, there was also no reason to believe that a contemporaneous objection by defense counsel would have reduced any potential for prejudice more than the court’s proper, written instructions did. “We thus hold that Clark has not carried his burden of showing prejudice and therefore has not established ineffective assistance of counsel.”

3. Cumulative Error Did Not Deprive Clark of His Right to a Fair Trial.

The Court reasoned Clark does not show any error, so the cumulative error doctrine does not apply.

CONCLUSION.

The Court concluded that Clark’s defense consisted of diminished capacity evidence. With that, the trial court properly excluded expert testimony from Clark’s doctor because Clark did not assert or plead diminished capacity or show that his doctor’s testimony was otherwise relevant. Moreover, the court properly allowed relevant observation testimony, which the defense relied on in its attempt to rebut the State’s evidence of intent. The Court affirmed his conviction.

THE DISSENT.

The dissenting judges reasoned that the trial court admitted certain lay observation testimony supporting the defense, but excluded the more neutral and more persuasive medical expert testimony supporting the same defense theory.  It also reasoned that the majority judges wrongfully equated all expert testimony about intellectual deficits with a diminished capacity defense. Additionally, the dissenting judges reasoned that by excluding defense evidence that could rebut the State’s evidence of intent, the trial court violated Clark’s constitutional right to present a defense. Finally, the dissenters reasoned that the exclusion of expert testimony on Clark’s mild mental retardation was not harmless error:

“To rebut the State’s evidence that he was a cold, calculated killer, Clark offered lay and expert testimony about how he was slow and did not process information the way other people his age did. But the trial court excluded most of it. It barred all testimony from Dr. Oneal about Clark’s substantial intellectual deficits. 6 Dr. Oneal would have testified, based on his personal testing and evaluation of Clark, that Clark was born prematurely and with significant developmental delays, was highly suggestible and therefore prone to change his story when pressured, and had a very low IQ score indicating that he had extremely poor perceptional reasoning, working memory, and verbal comprehension skills compared to others his age.”

With that, the dissenting judges held that the trial court improperly excluded evidence of Clark’s intellectual deficits in violation of the Evidence Rules and Clark’s constitutional right to present a defense; and that this error was not harmless.

My opinion? Diminished Capacity is a worthwhile – and difficult – defense to bring forward. Prosecutors consistently try to preclude defense counsel from bringing the defense. Here, it’s too difficult to determine why defense counsel did not assert the defense from the beginning. We’ll never know.

Unfortunately for Mr. Clark, it the majority court believed Mr. Clark did not properly assert the defense. Instead, it allowed Clark to get some evidence of his mental deficits through law witnesses. This is lawful, albeit not enough. A defendant can assert a roundabout defense of diminished capacity through law witness observations. What’s problematic, however, is that law witnesses won’t bring the requisite level of insight that experts bring.

Interesting opinion.

 

Bellingham Police Department Body Cameras Now Mandatory

A news article by Samantha Wohlfiel from of the Bellingham Herald reports that starting this July, Bellingham Police Department (BPD) will require all uniformed patrol officers to wear and use body cameras.

In 2014, the BPD started a voluntary program, allowing officers to use a body camera if they were willing. Now, Police Chief Cliff Cook has decided all uniformed patrol officers will need to wear the cameras while on duty:

“I think the original pilot and then the past year and a half … has shown us that having the videos is not only beneficial in cases of prosecution of individuals for crimes, as evidence of the actions of our officers, especially when they’re appropriate . . .  It also generally helps us resolve disputes or disagreements about what may have transpired between an officer and a citizen much more quickly and in a more definitive way.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

Initially, 18 officers volunteered for Bellingham’s program, and currently 34 officers are using the cameras, Cook said. He also mentioned that his police officers have noted that people often change their behavior for the better when they’re told they’re being filmed.

One of the main concerns for officers and community members has been privacy, Cook said:

“One of the concerns we talked about was the overriding concern about creating video of individuals in pretty personally trying situations that involve personal privacy, such as mental illness, or a domestic violence call in a private residence, or interviewing the victim of a crime. So there are provisions within the policy where officers are given discretion on whether they want to turn that camera on or not.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

Basically, the “policy” requires that officers turn on the cameras for any enforcement activity, an arrest, use of force or where they believe there will be the need to use force.

The department has a mix of cameras, some that are clipped on a lapel, others that are worn on glasses, but both have easily been knocked off in situations where officers were restraining someone, Cook said, so the department may shift toward other models.

Between 2014 and 2016, the total program cost has been $315,250, which includes things such as all hardware (the cameras, clips, glasses they sit on, etc.), software and docking stations, Cook told the council.

According to the article, the projected costs moving forward are about $35,000 to $56,000 per year each of the next two years for renewed data storage management.

Another concern was, of course, privacy:

“One of the concerns we talked about was the overriding concern about creating video of individuals in pretty personally trying situations that involve personal privacy, such as mental illness, or a domestic violence call in a private residence, or interviewing the victim of a crime. So there are provisions within the policy where officers are given discretion on whether they want to turn that camera on or not.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

The current policy requires that officers turn on the cameras for any enforcement activity, an arrest, use of force or where they believe there will be the need to use force.

My opinion? This is a step in the right direction. Body cameras make everyone behave better. They also catch evidence of what really transpired. Good move, BPD.

Some Bellingham Inmates Transported Out Of County

Today, the Bellingham Herald reported that the City of Bellingham shall transport inmates to a King County jail if the Whatcom and Yakima County jail don’t have room available.

Recently, council members approved a contract with the South Correctional Entity regional jail (SCORE) located in King County.
It was reported that because the City did not promise to send a certain number of inmates to the facility per year, the cost to house someone there would be charged at higher rate of $157 per day.

The City has moved inmates to Yakima County Jail on a weekly basis since mid-January, in response to Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo’s policy shift in the new year to keep the population in the main Whatcom County Jail at or below about 212 inmates. The daily cost to house inmates in Yakima is about $54.

Under the agreement, the City shall transfer inmates who only have misdemeanor charges in Bellingham. The county is still responsible for all people being held on felony charges, regardless of which agency books them into jail.

It was reported that since the beginning of the year, there have been on average about seven inmates with Bellingham-only charges in the main jail on any given day. Consequently, the City’s inmates are a relatively small percentage of the total jail population.

As of Friday, March 18, the City had eight people in the main jail, 13 in the work center on Division Street, and seven people on electronic home monitoring through the City’s contract with Friendship Diversion Services.

 

Jury Acquits Mr. Ransom’s Client of Assault Fourth Degree (DV) & Malicious Mischief Third Degree (DV)

Client was charged with Assault Fourth Degree Domestic Violence (DV) under RCW 9A.36.041 and Malicious Mischief Third Degree (DV) under RCW 9A.48.090. Here, Client allegedly destroyed her ex-boyfriend’s laptop and struck him in the face while they argued. Both crimes are gross misdemeanors punishable up to 1 year jail and a $5,000 fine each. Making matters worse, a conviction for DV crimes brings enhanced jail penalties, mandatory DV evaluations and treatment, mandatory probation, a court-imposed No-Contact Order with the alleged victim and loss of firearms rights.

The Prosecutor refused to negotiate or resolve the charges in light of client’s prior criminal history. Also, the alleged victim insisted he was victimized throughout his relationship with Client. Nevertheless, and at trial, Mr. Ransom successfully suppressed evidence of Client’s prior bad acts and criminal convictions under Evidence Rule (ER) 404(b) and ER 609. Although the judge denied Mr. Ransom’s self-defense jury instruction, Mr. Ransom successfully prevailed at trial by raising reasonable doubt to the State’s lack of evidence and the alleged victim’s lack of credibility. The jury acquitted Client under 1 hour.

State v. Martines: WA Supreme Court Finds Defendant Guilty of DUI on Blood Test Case

Bad news.

In State v. Martines, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the WA Court of Appeals Division I. I blogged about this case last year in State v. Martines: More Good Caselaw on Blood tests Taken After DUI Arrests. There, the WA Court of Appeals version of State v. Martines held that the blood test performed on Martines was an unlawful warrantless search. The Court of Appeals also reasoned that drawing blood and testing blood constitute separate searches, each of which requires particular authorization, and that the warrant here authorized only a blood draw.

The original Martines opinion appeared strong. It was rooted in the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Missouri v. McNeely; which requires police officers to obtain search warrants for blood draws in DUI cases when exigent circumstances do not otherwise exist. It also followed Washington State legalizing marijuana, thus necessitating stronger regulations and monitoring of blood tests performed during DUI investigations.

The WA Supreme Court decided differently in a short, scathing opinion signed by all justices.

First, the Court held that a warrant authorizing the testing of a blood sample for intoxicants does not require separate findings of probable cause to suspect drug and alcohol use so long as there is probable cause to suspect intoxication that may be caused by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

Second, the Court  further held that the search warrant lawfully authorized testing Martines’s blood sample for intoxicants because it authorized a blood draw to obtain evidence of DUI. In other words, the search of Martines’s blood did not exceed the bounds of the search warrant when a sample of Martines’s blood was extracted and tested for intoxicants anyway.

My opinion?

Bad decision. I’m amazed the WA Supremes didn’t discuss Missouri v. McNeely at all. Not once. McNeely profoundly and significantly evolved search and seizure law concerning blood draws in DUI investigations. Indeed, McNeely was the underpinnings for Division One Court of Appeals case State v. Martinez. Yet the WA Supremes ignore McNeely as if it didn’t exist. Ignoring case precedents violates stare decisis, plain and simple.

Hopefully, this case gets appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for further review.

 

State v. Gauthier: The “Washout” Rule for Felony Convictions

 

Many clients approach me on the question of when prior felony convictions “Washout” from a Defendant’s offender scores. The recent case of State v. Gauthier is a good place to answer that question.

In Gauthier, the WA Court of Appeals Division I decided (1) the prosecutor’s closing arguments were fair,  (2) Gauthier received effective assistance of counsel, and (3) trial court properly calculated Gauthier’s offender score.

At trial, Mr. Gauthier was found guilty of Rape in the Second Degree. On appeal, he argued that the trial court improperly calculated his offender score by failing to recognize that his prior convictions “washed out” pursuant to RCW 9.94A.525(2)(c).

Some background is necessary. Under the “washout” provision, RCW 9.94A.535(2)(c), prior “Class C” felony convictions are excluded in a defendant’s offender score if, since the last date of release from confinement pursuant to a felony conviction or entry of the judgment and sentence, the offender spent five consecutive years “in the community” without committing any crime that subsequently results in a conviction.

In Gauthier’s case, he had five prior class C felony convictions. His last release date happened in June 2007. However, he did not remain crime free for five years. He was charged with the Rape Second Degree on March 13, 2009, and taken into custody to the King County Correctional Facility on July 23, 2010. There, he remained through his first trial on May 2011 which resulted in a conviction. He was subsequently sentenced on July 8, 2011. Consequently, the sentencing court properly calculated his offender score as a five (5) based on his five prior class C felony convictions.

Furthermore, at his sentencing on February 14, 2014, Gauthier argued that his five prior class C felonies should not be included in his offender score because he spent 43 months in custody before he was convicted again on the present offense. He claimed that under the “washout” statute, the “in the community” phrase includes the 43 months he spent in custody on this offense, thus his offender score is zero not five. The sentencing court rejected this argument, calculated his offender score as five, and sentenced him to 120 months with credit for all time served back to July 2010, the date he was first arrested.

Here, and similar to the trial court, the WA Court of Appeals rejected Gauthier’s arguments and also rejected Gauthier’s reliance on State v. Ervin, a somewhat recent case where the WA Supreme Court decided in favor of the defendant James Erwin’s arguments  that his 17 days of custody did not interrupt the requisite  5-year washout period:

“We have found no case, and Gauthier cites to none, where Ervin’s limited holding was applied to time spent in confinement while awaiting resolution of a felony charge. That is the precise circumstance present here. As the State correctly points out, Gauthier’s interpretation creates an absurd scenario—a defendant’s offender score will actually go down while he is in custody pending trial or pending sentencing. Indeed, that is an absurd result and a result we are confident the legislature did not intend.”

Simply put, if Gauthier had remained in the community for five years after June 2007 and remained crime free for those five years, his prior class C felony convictions would not count in his offender score after June 2012. It would have “washed out” under RCW 9.94A.535(2)(c). However, Gauthier’s 43 months in custody rendered hopeless any arguments that his priors would wash out.

The Court of Appeals upheld affirmed the trial court’s Judgment & Sentence and sentenced him to 120 months of prison.

State v. Afeworki: “Band It” Restraint Is Constitutional

In State v. Afeworki, the WA Court of Appeals Division I held, among other rulings, that a “Band It” prisoner restraint system worn by the Defendant during trial does not violate the Constitutional right to a fair trial or the presumption of innocence.

The Defendant Tomas Afeworki was charged with Murder in the First Degree. During pretrial proceedings, he experienced significant and ongoing conflict with each of his several attorneys. On the eve of trial, Afeworki repeatedly threatened his attorney, who was permitted to withdraw as a result. Afeworki was, thereafter, required to represent himself. He was found guilty.

On appeal, Afeworki contends that this deprived him of his right to counsel. After threatening his attorney, Afeworki was also required to wear a “Band It” physical security restraint, not visible to observers, while in the courtroom. Afeworki argues that wearing the “Band It” violated his right to a fair trial.

The court reasoned that under State v. Finch, a defendant in a criminal case is entitled to appear at trial free from all bonds or shackles except in extraordinary circumstances. This is to ensure that the defendant receives a fair and impartial trial as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Washington State Constitution.”

In short, restraining a defendant during trial infringes upon this right to a fair trial for several reasons: (1)it violates a defendant’s presumption of innocence, (2) it restricts the defendant’s ability to assist his counsel during trial, (3) it interferes with the right to testify in one’s own behalf, and (4) it offends the dignity of the judicial process.

Washington case law also says that, given the constitutional implications of using restraints in a criminal trial, shackles or other restraining devices should only be used when necessary to prevent injury to those in the courtroom, to prevent disorderly conduct at trial, or to prevent an escape. That said, a trial court has broad discretion to determine which security measures are necessary to maintain decorum in the courtroom and to protect the safety of its occupants.

A trial court may consider the following factors in determining whether the use of restraints is justified: the seriousness of the present charge against the defendant, their temperament and character, age, physical attributes, past record, past escapes or attempted escapes, evidence of a present plan to escape, threats to harm others or cause a disturbance, self-destructive tendencies, the risk of mob violence or of attempted revenge by others, the possibility of rescue by other offenders still at large, the size and the mood of the audience, the nature and physical security of the courtroom and the adequacy and availability of alternative remedies.

The court described the “Band-It” restraint system as a device that essentially as a 50,000-volt taser contained in a band that is worn under a sleeve or pant leg. Unlike most restraints, which are either visible to jurors or readily perceived by jurors, the Band-It is not visible when the wearer is clothed. Also, unlike other restraints, the Band-It does not in any way directly constrain the wearer’s movements. In fact, the Band-It can cause a wearer’s movements to be constrained only when it is activated.

Here, reasoned the court, the Band-It restraint system does not implicate the presumption of innocence because it is not visible to observers. Moreover, it does not implicate the defendant’s right to the assistance of counsel because it does not physically constrain a defendant’s movements. Finally, the defendant’s antics, aggressive behavior and threats to his defense counsel justified the trail judge’s reasons for making the defendant wear the device:

“The court thereby fashioned a comprehensive order that protected both Afeworki’s constitutional rights and the safety of the people present in the courtroom for his trial. The trial court’s decision was reasonable. There was no error.”

Most Strict & Most Lenient States For DUIs

Here’s a new and interesting study: Which states are the toughest on DUI? WalletHub compared the enforcement rules in all 50 states and D.C. to find out.

Most Strict Most Lenient
1-      Arizona 1-      South Dakota
2-      Alaska 2-      District of Columbia
3-      Connecticut 3-      Pennsylvania
4-      West Virginia 4-      North Dakota
5-      Kansas 5-      Maryland
6-      Nebraska 6-      Montana
7-      Utah 7-      Wisconsin
8-      Virginia 8-      Kentucky
9-      Washington 9-      Vermont
9-      Georgia 10-   Ohio
9-      Delaware 10-   New Jersey

Here’s more raw data:

  • First time offenders should expect to spend, on average, a minimum 1 day in jail, while those who are at their second offense should expect at least 21 days in jail.
  • Arizona has the longest minimum jail term for first time offenders (a minimum of 10 days), while West Virginia has the longest minimum sentence for second time offenders (180 days).
  • In 37 states, alcohol abuse assessment and/or treatment is mandatory, and in 39, local law enforcement regularly sets up sobriety checkpoints.
  • On average expect to have your license suspended for at least 3 months after being stopped for a DUI – even before trial – as most states “administratively” suspend licenses after arrest. Georgia will suspend a license for the longest period (up to 12 months), while 7 states do not have administrative license suspensions.
  • After a first arrest with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more, an “ignition Interlock device” is mandatory in 24 states. In another 14 states, this device is mandatory after a first offense only if BAC is above .15. In 7 states, these devices are mandatory only after a second offense, and in 6 states the device is never required.
  • Red states are stricter on DUIs, with an average ranking of 23.0, compared to 28.2 for blue states (1 = Strictest).

Washington State ranked #9 among the Top 10.

The Methodology used was interesting. WalletHub examined 15 key metrics to evaluate which states are strictest and which are most lenient for DUI offenses. Each variable is weighted so that the toughest ones, like jail sentences, and those shown to have the biggest impact on repeat offenders, like ignition interlock devices, are weighted more heavily. The metrics used and the weight given to them are detailed below:

Criminal Penalties:

  1. A) Minimum jail time (for 1st offense, minimum sentence only)
  • 10 days and over (10 points)
  • 8 – 9 days (8 points)
  • 6 -7 days (6 points)
  • 4 – 5 days (4 points)
  • 2 – 3 days (2 points)
  • 0 – 1 day (0 points)

              B) Minimum jail time (for 2nd offense, minimum sentence only)

  • 60 days and over (7 points)
  • 50 – 59 days (6 points)
  • 40 – 49 days (5 points)
  • 30 – 39 days (4 points)
  • 20 – 29 days (3 points)
  • 10 – 19 days (1 point)
  • Under 10 days (0 points)

2. When is DUI automatically considered a felony?

  • 2nd offense (5 points)
  • 3rd offense (4 points)
  • 4th offense (2 points)
  • 5th offense (1 point)
  • Never (0 points)

3. How long does a previous DUI factor into penalties for a new DUI?

  • More than 12 years (4 points)
  • 12 years (3 points)
  • 10 years (2 points)
  • 7 years (1 point)
  • Under 7 years (0 points)

4. Are there additional penalties for high BAC?

  • Over 0.10 (3 points)
  • Over 0.15 (2 points)
  • Over 0.16 or higher (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

5. A) Minimum fine (for 1st offense, minimum sentence only)

  • $1000 and over (3 points)
  • $600 – $999 (2 points)
  • $200 – $599 (1 point)
  • Under $200 (0 points)

      B) Minimum fine (for 2nd offense, minimum sentence only)

  • $2000 and over (2 points)
  • $1200 – $1999 (1 point)
  • $400 – $1199 (0.5 points)
  • Under $400 (0 points)

6. Protection against child endangerment

  • Yes (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

         Prevention:

7. When is an ignition interlock mandatory?

  • 1st conviction with 0.08 BAC (5 points)
  • 1st conviction with 0.15 BAC (4 points)
  • 2nd conviction (2 points)
  • Not mandatory (0 points)

8. Is there an “administrative” license suspension after arrest (and before conviction)?

  • 6 months or more (4 points)
  • 3-6 months (3 points)
  • Less than 3 months (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

9. How long is ignition interlock mandatory?

  • 6 months or more (3 points)
  • 3-6 months (2 points)
  • Ignition Interlock period determined by court (1 point)

10. Is alcohol abuse assessment and/or treatment mandatory?

  • Yes (2 points)
  • No (0 points)

11. Vehicle Impound After Arrest

  • Yes (2 points)
  • No (0 points)

12. Average insurance rate increase after DUI.

  • 100% or more increased cost (1 point)
  • Above 75% increase in cost (0.75 points)
  • Above 50% increase in cost (0.50 points)
  • Above 25% increase in cost (0.25 points)
  • Under 25% increase in cost (0 points)

13. “No-refusal” initiative for rapid search warrants for sobriety testing

  • Yes (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

14. Sobriety checkpoints?

Yes (1 point) No (0 points)

15. Other penalties

  • If a state has any other penalties (1 point)
  • No other penalties (0 points)

Total: 55 points.

The Overall Rank was determined by how many points each state accumulated. The highest score – for the strictest state, which was Arizona – was ranked 1.

The data is interesting to interpret. The study said that since the 1980s, when states first began to crack down on drunk driving, the rate of impaired driving and the number of accidents caused by drunk drivers has dropped considerably. This has meant many saved lives, as drunk driving fatalities declined 52 percent from 1982 to 2013.

The study also mentioned some of this change was attributed to evolving social attitudes. Also, new, tougher penalties for those caught driving under the influence have also had an impact, especially in reducing the number of repeat violators. For example, almost half the states now require all convicted DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device in any vehicles they will be driving. These devices analyze the driver’s breath and won’t permit the car to start if alcohol is detected. The study mentioned that the federal government estimates that these devices have reduced re-arrest rates of DUI offenders by 67 percent.

My opinion? The constant lobbying from groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute have driven legislators to enact tougher laws of the the years.

Distracted Driving Crashes Worse Than Previously Suspected

Other reports found that Smartphone technology increased the use of cellphones by drivers beyond basic calls and texts -- including Social Media and GPS applications.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers, but a new study suggests a far bigger problem.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which released a 2012 study using statistics based on police reports, previously estimated that teen distracted driving constituted 14 percent of all collisions. That study showed that teen drivers were distracted almost a quarter of the time they were behind the wheel.  Electronic devices, such as texting, emails, and downloading music, were among the biggest distractions, accounting for 7% of the distractions identified on the study video.

However, a study released in March by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety which used live footage instead of police reports. Their latest study on distracted driving found a 400 percent increase and concluded that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes. AAA analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle cameras they knew were in their cars.

Teen Driver Distraction Crashes Infographic

My opinion? Eventually, “Distracted Driving” will be criminalized. It took decades for statistics on fatal drunken driving crashes to translate into tougher DWI laws. I’m sure that advocates for strict laws against cellphone use by drivers encounter the same detached attitude today.