New DUI Laws Punish the Wrong People

do not feed iguanas.jpgBig Brother is always telling us what to do, right? In a limited fashion I'm ok with that, I suppose. I mean, who else is going to keep track of traffic lights and air traffic controllers? But other Big Brother decisions don't add up. For example, one part of our government, the National Park Service (part of the Department of Agriculture), has posted signs which read "PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS - The Animals May Grow Dependent and Not Take Care of Themselves". Yet, the Department of Agriculture is also handing out food stamps at historic levels. This sort of hypocrisy and irony is all in a day's work for the massive Big Brother machinery, and George Orwell would be proud. True, the Federal Government is really too easy a target, sort of like that beginner comic that makes jokes about how one's ethnicity effects penis size--it's been done before. So, to bring this back to Florida law--DUI in particular--let's point out another obscene piece of DUI legislation which took effect on July 1st, 2013.

First the good news. Not only are DUI diversion programs popping up everywhere for first time DUI clients, but also, the new laws permit first time DUI clients to waive a formal review hearing. Now, in plain English, I'll walk you thru what that means. Let's say you get arrested for the first time on a DUI. If you blow over a 0.8 BAL, your license is suspended for 6 months. That hurts, right? After all, how are you going to get to work? Under the old law--and current law, really--your lawyer may appeal this 6 month suspension by requesting a "formal review hearing". But if the appeal is lost, the driver must go 30 days without driving, before requesting a hardship (or business purposes only) license to serve out the remaining 5 months of the 6 month suspension. Who can afford a taxi for a month?

do not feed alligators.jpgBut the July 1st changes now permit a driver to file a "waiver of formal review hearing", and simply obtain a business purposes only license immediately [see my DUI website for more details]. That's great news for some drivers, because not everyone can afford to not drive to work for 30 or 90 days (90 days for refusals). But the new law made some questionable changes that spell trouble for our disabled citizens.

You see, for some folks who are found guilty of DUI (those who blow ever a .15 BAL, for example), these drivers must install an ignition interlock device upon their car. This requires the driver to take their car into a repair shop which specializes in interlock device installation and monitoring. Unfortunately, some clients cannot, physically, blow into these devices because they require a decent amount of air to function properly. The old DUI law permitted disabled drivers to file a "medical waiver". A medical waiver permitted a defendant to drive without an interlock device, even though the DUI laws required it. A prime example of just such a client would be someone with breathing problems. I have a family member who has had most of a lung removed due to lung cancer--and she would qualify for this "medical waiver."

Unfortunately, the new law basically abolishes driving on medical waivers. As you can see from above, the new DUI laws have made it easier for some DUI clients to drive via formal review waivers (and we like that, thank you), but has made it more difficult for those who are disabled. Yes, that means you, disabled veterans. Sure, the government requires businesses to have handicap access ramps everywhere, but they've just taken away your ability to drive to such locations in the first place. Here's what the new law says, in all it's boring detail:

(1) Before issuing a permanent or restricted driver license under this chapter, the department shall require the placement of a department-approved ignition interlock device for any person convicted of committing an offense of driving under the influence as specified in subsection (3), except that consideration may be given to those individuals having a documented medical condition that would prohibit the device from functioning normally. If a medical waiver has been granted for a convicted person seeking a restricted license, the convicted person shall not be entitled to a restricted license until the required ignition interlock device installation period under subsection (3) expires, in addition to the time requirements under s. 322.271. If a medical waiver has been approved for a convicted person seeking permanent reinstatement of the driver license, the convicted person must be restricted to an employment-purposes-only license and be supervised by a licensed DUI program until the required ignition interlock device installation period under subsection (3) expires. An interlock device shall be placed on all vehicles that are individually or jointly leased or owned and routinely operated by the convicted person.

As you can see, healthy people who are required to have an ignition interlock may drive so long as they blow into a machine. If you're not healthy enough to blow into a machine--the old law permitted you to drive as long as you had a medical waiver--but the new law does not permit you to drive. Those of you who have fought for our country, sucked in some bad air overseas, sorry, the legislature has singled you out. Medically disabled drivers must wait for the required ignition interlock period to end before being able to drive (this means not driving for an extra year, an extra two years, ouch). [Maybe the ADA can step in here and sort out this Equal Protection issue?]

We all make mistakes. Healthy people, not-so-healthy people. It's a shame that our government has now decided to lay the smack down upon folks with medical problems. I'm not sure anyone can articulate what these folks have done to deserve this new law. Is there a statistic out there which demonstrates that people with breathing problems are more likely to drive poorly than a 16 year old with their radio at max volume talking on the phone? No. I'm just saying.