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Riley seeking tougher DUI law

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Gov. Bob Riley said the state needs to fix a 2006 drunk driving law that ended up lightening, not stiffening punishment for repeat offenders.

On Tuesday, Riley, along with district attorneys, state troopers, activists and lawmakers, said he wants legislation in 2008 to correct the mistakes in the earlier law.

Riley said he wants the Legislature to enact laws mandating stiffer punishment for drivers with blood alcohol levels of .15 or higher, almost double the level of .08 at which Alabama considers a driver intoxicated. He also wants longer minimum sentences for offenders with four or more convictions for driving while intoxicated. About 39 states have similar laws.

Unless Alabama updates its law, it could lose up to $2 million per year in federal state trooper funds, Riley said. He outlined his plan at a news conference.

"This is not social drinking. It is a callous disregard for human life," said Peggy Batey, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Alabama. Batey said stiffer penalties are especially critical for drivers with exceptionally high blood alcohol levels.

"Fifty-eight percent of all traffic fatalities involve drivers with blood alcohol levels of .15 or higher," she said.

Riley proposed a bill in 2006 that he said is similar to the 2008 measure.

In that bill, first offenders would receive a minimum $600 fine and 90-day license suspension. Drivers with blood alcohol levels of .15 or higher would face a minimum $1,500 fine and lose their license for one year.

Alabama District Attorney's Association President Ken Davis said it is extremely important for the state to pass stiffer penalties. A Sept. 28 decision by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals underscores the loophole in the current law, he said.

In a case involving multiple past DUI convictions in another state, the appeals court said under the 2006 law, prosecutors can count only DUI convictions in the last five years.

Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, sponsored the original 2006 drunk driving bill. He said he favors the stiffer penalties for repeat offenders that his bill originally intended.

Tuesday Black said his 2006 bill followed recommendations of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, which developed a list of measures to make sentences in the state uniform.

"The sole purpose of my bill was to treat everyone fairly," Black said. "The courts had ruled that you couldn't take into consideration DUI convictions from another state. If you had two DUI convictions in Alabama, you got one sentence. If you had one DUI conviction in Alabama, and another from just over the line in Tennessee, you got a different sentence. My bill was to change that."

Black's bill passed the House as he intended with language allowing Alabama to consider prior offenses from another state, when deciding sentences.

Language in a Senate substitute to the bill by Sen. Roger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, resulted in a loophole for offenders with four or more prior drunk driving convictions. As a result, the minimum sentence for a person with four prior DUI convictions became 10 days while the minimum sentence for a person with three prior convictions remained 120 days.

Smitherman's amended version of the bill passed the Legislature and Riley signed the measure.

Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, and Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes, will sponsor Riley's 2008 legislation.

DUI arrests

Police made the following DUI arrests during September:

  • Moulton, seven

  • Hartselle, nine

  • Athens, 51

  • Decatur, 65

    Police Departments

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