Sacramento: California DUI Laws

New legislation aims to teach a lesson – and to keep drunks from
getting behind the wheel. Beginning Sunday, authorities can seize
vehicles of motorists arrested for drunken driving if they have a
previous conviction.
By Kevin Yamamura — Bee Capitol Bureau

Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, December 31, 2005 Story appeared on
Page A3 of The Bee Motorists who commit a repeat drunken driving offense
in California have their vehicles seized under existing state law – but
it doesn’t happen until after they are convicted.

Under a new law that takes effect Sunday, drivers in California can
lose their cars when they’re arrested – and before they’re convicted – if
they have committed a drunken driving offense in the past decade.

Another new law sets the stage for a pilot project in Sacramento
County that would impose a longer pre-conviction impoundment and require
an intervention for motorists suspected of drunken driving.

The new rules are intended to teach drunken drivers a dramatic lesson
when the offense occurs and to deter impaired motorists from getting
behind the wheel.

"The usual issue in alcohol problems is that nobody confronts the
individual," said Leon Owens, medical director of the trauma program at
Mercy San Juan Medical Center. "We’re being confrontational once you’re
arrested.

We’re taking the vehicle away and making it a big deal in your
life."

Owens sees victims of drunken driving on a nightly basis in his trauma
ward – he estimates they constitute one-third of all trauma patients –
and spearheaded the effort to pass Senate Bill 547 by Sen. Dave Cox,
R-Fair Oaks.

The bill, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will create
the Sacramento County pilot project to impound vehicles for up to 30 days
if their motorists are arrested for a repeat offense of driving under the
influence. Owens is trying to secure at least $1.5 million in funding
before the Board of Supervisors implements the program.

Another new law, Senate Bill 207 by Sen. Jack Scott, D-Altadena, will
allow officers to impound a vehicle for five days after arresting a
previously convicted driver with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 or higher.
On a third or subsequent arrest within 10 years, a driver would face a
15-day impoundment.

In California, alcohol-related traffic deaths rose by 2 percent and
arrests increased by 3.7 percent in 2003, according to a 2005 state
report. In 2002, repeat offenders constituted 24 percent of drunken
driving convictions.

Under existing law, repeat drunken driving offenders face a mandatory
30-day impoundment after conviction unless courts find such a penalty
would impose an undue hardship.

Courts also can order a vehicle impounded for up to six months when
its owner is convicted of a first drunken driving offense. A repeat
offense can result in post-conviction impoundment of up to one year.

One Assembly analysis, however, says that courts have been reluctant
to impose such impoundments because it is difficult to seize vehicles
weeks after an incident and doing so often imposes a financial burden on
other family members.

The new laws have drawn opposition from defense lawyers who say
pre-conviction impoundment infringes upon the constitutional rights of
individuals by taking their personal property before they face trial.

"People need to recognize that the government is streamlining the
process of taking people’s liberty and property interests without giving
them the due process upon which our system has been based for hundreds of
years," said K. Randolph Moore, a San Jose attorney and president of the
300-member California DUI Lawyers Association.

But Scott said taking a drunken driver’s vehicle is akin to seizing a
loaded weapon upon arrest, which officers already do. And Cox defended
his plan by saying, "We’re not taking a car, we’re impounding it for a
specific period of time."

Moore said he thinks drunken driving is wrong, but he believes the new
laws won’t have much impact. "This serves no purpose but to allow someone
to pound on his chest and say he passed another drunk-driving law," Moore
said. "The people who are going to drive drunk are not going to be
affected by impoundment."

Scott’s bill sets the threshold at a 0.10 blood-alcohol level,
slightly higher than the state’s 0.08 DUI standard. Current law allows
for the suspension of a drunken motorist’s license upon arrest, but Scott
said he doesn’t see that as enough of a penalty.

"I know of at least two men who have continued to drive after their
licenses were taken away," Scott said. "I think some people really value
their car, and when you threaten them with the loss of an automobile,
there will be tremendous family pressure placed on them." Owens knows
firsthand how drunken driving affects families. His 21-year-old son,
Jake, died when he crashed his car in Carmichael while driving drunk in
2002.

He said he does not know whether SB 547 would have saved his son. But
he believes that drunken drivers can learn from a "teachable moment" that
occurs right after an accident. Under the Cox law, a drunken driver would
face an intervention and receive a referral to an alcohol treatment
program.

After successfully lobbying legislators to pass SB 547, Owens is
pursuing at least $1.5 million in federal, state and private funding to
enable Sacramento County to run the program. He aims to have the pilot
project running by July.

Cox said the "teachable moment" is the most significant aspect of his
new law. "There is a point of time where you have someone’s attention and
that’s when you can make a difference," Cox said. "When you have lost
your vehicle, that gets your attention."

NEW LAWS AT A GLANCE Senate Bill 547 creates a pilot project in
Sacramento County to impound vehicles for up to 30 days if their
motorists are arrested for a repeat offense of driving under the
influence. Senate Bill 207 will allow officers statewide to impound a
vehicle for five days after arresting a previously convicted driver with
a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 or higher.

About the writer: The Bee’s Kevin Yamamura can be reached at (916)
326-5548 or kyamamura@sacbee.com.

California Bill Number: SB 547 Enacted This bill would establish a
pilot program in Sacramento County that would authorize, until January 1,
2009, the impoundment of a person’s vehicle by a peace officer for a DUI
offense that is undertaken in combination with an intervention and a
referral of the person to a driving-under-the-influence program, as
specified, if the person has one or more prior DUI convictions within the
past 10 years. The bill would implement the program only to the extent
that funds from private or federal sources are available to fund the
program and only if the Board of Supervisors of Sacramento County enacts
an ordinance or resolution authorizing the implementation of the pilot
program in the county. The bill would require the county to report to the
Legislature regarding the effectiveness of the pilot program, as
specified.

SOURCE: SACBEE

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