Sometimes, it can seem like people who are suspected of drunk driving are the most persecuted people in the nation. Thankfully, one court ruling from a state just miles away from Washington is pushing back against that point of view.
This month, a judge in Montana struck down a law in that state which supports a program that required DUI suspects to undergo sobriety tests prior to their trials. Montana's 24/7 Sobriety Program. The mandate forced people who were suspected of a second (or subsequent) DUI charge to submit to periodic alcohol breath tests - at the suspect's expense - before being brought to trial on those charges. If the individuals failed to appear for those tests, they could be fined or imprisoned on contempt of court charges. Washington now has the same program.
District Judge James Wheelis said that the law called for punishments that were unconstitutional given that the suspects in question had not yet been convicted of an offense. Wheelis also noted that the statute was vague and gave too much discretion to prosecutors and law enforcement agencies.
Some people in the 24/7 Sobriety Program had to travel as far as 50 miles one way to undergo these tests. And the length of the testing period could stretch on into several months depending on how slowly the case proceeded to trial. Of course, the longer the time between arrest and trial, the more money the defendants had to pay in fees.
This ruling is important because a similar program exists in Washington, although most jurisdictions have yet to fund and/or implement it. Hopefully, this ruling (which will be appealed to the Montana Supreme Court) will give lawmakers pause when proceeding with burdensome and indistinct measures designed to unfairly target suspected drunk drivers in the state of Washington.