Going Into Effect July 1: The Law of Unintended Consequences

Posted On April 29, 2011 by Charles Ramsay


nesota's expansion of ignition interlock devices this summer may cause more problems than state officials anticipated. You might remember our previous blog about the earlier stages of this program, but now the "pilot| project is official. As of July 1, 2011, first time DWI arrestees may be required to install the devices in their vehicles in order to get their drivers' licenses back in a reasonable period of time.

State officials might see the interlock device as a panacea for repeat DWI offenders (see below), but what I see are all of the potential problems that will arise.

Minnesota Lawyer's front page story this week, headlined, |DWI Law Changes Worry Lawyers,| cited Bill Lemons, the traffic safety resource prosecutor from the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, as saying,

[T]he program helps offenders get their lives back on track sooner because they can drive right away, and the ignition interlocks will mean safer roads for everyone else. In addition, it ensures offenders will drive legally instead of driving with a revoked license.

|We would like to see all [of those offenders] get the ignition interlock,| said Lemons. |The research shows that the program is only effective when the device is in the car. Absent that behavior changing program, the likelihood to re-offend goes right back to where it was.|

Defense attorneys paint a less-rosy picture. Jeff Sheridan, a criminal defense attorney from Eagan, told the paper the law fails to take into account that not every other state has an ignition interlock program.

|What about the guy who is up here on business and gets arrested and his state doesn't do interlock?| Sheridan said. |Is his home state is required to enforce the revocation? Is he supposed to put [a device] on his car anyway?

|I encourage the interlock device [with my clients] but assuming that there are going to be no problems is a bit of a step,| he said.

Kelly Keegan, an Anoka defense attorney, pointed out other limitations to the program, including the hefty price of participating - costs that may prevent many from using the device at all.

Minnesota Lawyer asked me about a bill pending before the legislature which would significantly increase the driver's license revocation period for repeat offenders and for those with an alcohol concentration .16 or more. As I told the weekly publication, the legislature's tinkering will have unintended consequences. As just one example, the current version of the bill acts as an incentive for drivers to refuse testing, which is something that State undoubtedly wants to avoid.

Attorney Mike Bryant, a fellow blogger, brought up other interesting questions earlier this week, including:

-How well do these ignition interlock devices actually work?

-Who gets these government contracts? As Mike writes, |It can be a nice money making monopoly for some companies.|

I will be watching this issue very closely, including how other states have handled the problems that go hand in hand with ignition interlock. But for now, I agree with Minnesota Lawyer reporter Patrick Thornton, |Come this summer, DWI defense lawyers are going to be busy.|