California DUI Law Changed in Committee

A piece of anti-drunk driving legislation in the California State Assembly has been modified by an Appropriations Committee, removing two main points from the original bill. The key changes include the removal of a life-time ‘look-back’ period for prior California DUI arrests and the elimination of a provision allowing judges to permanently suspend a repeat offender’s driver’s license.

Under current state law, the prosecution can search a ten year window for any prior driving under the influence offenses in California. Any DUI more than ten years old is not included on a driver’s record. Regarding license suspension, the existing law allows a judge to revoke a license for three years after a third offense for DUI in California. The proposed legislation sought to change that to a lifetime suspension. The compromise was a revocation of up to 10 years at the discretion of the judge.

Economics were cited for the changes in the proposed bill. California is currently grappling with a $19 billion deficit and any new expenses to the state budget are highly scrutinized. The lifetime look-back period especially would have increased the number of felony DUI convictions, in turn adding more inmates to the already crowded state prison system.

The original bill was challenged by civil liberties advocates and California DUI defense lawyers. It was noted that getting one’s license back is strong incentive for a CA DUI offender to seek treatment for an alcohol problem which would potentially reduce recidivism. As part of the process, it is recommended that repeat offenders be required to install an ignition interlock in their vehicles before having driving privileges restored.

Starting July 1, 2010, California will begin testing a pilot program requiring mandatory installation ignition interlock devices for those arrested for drunk driving in Los Angeles, Tulare, Alameda and Sacramento Counties. If successful, the program may be expanded to the rest of the state.

The author of the DUI legislation is undeterred by the committee changes, saying that compromise is part of the legislative process. He added that any opportunity to remove a drunk driver from the highway is worth it. The bill now heads for a vote on the Assembly floor. If passed it will be taken up by the state Senate.

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