Pawlenty's Proposed DWI Penalties: Panacea or Patsy

Posted On January 25, 2010 by Charles Ramsay

This week, Minnesota Governor Pawlenty proposed new DWI laws in an effort to significantly reduce drunk driving in Minnesota. Highlighting the changes is a requirement that all offenders install ignition interlock devices into all of their vehicles to be eligible to drive. The proposal applies to first time DWI offenders.

The proposal also aims to toughen other aspects of Minnesota DWI laws, including lowering the alcohol concentration limit from 0.20 to 0.15 for enhanced penalties; applying enhanced sanctions to all second-time DWI offenders, regardless of blood alcohol concentration; and reforming drivers' license revocation laws.

Governor Pawlenty appears to be making a genuine effort to reduce drunk driving. It is well known that to be successful, DWI laws must emphasize rehabilitation. This proposal is a step in the right direction. However, it is riddled with pitfalls - this law is no panacea.

Topping the list of pitfalls are the unrealistic expectations. Supporters of the proposal claim the changes will nearly eliminate repeat offences. "Drunk drivers will no longer be able to get behind the wheel of a car without proving their sobriety," Pawlenty said. (Pioneer Press, Jan. 20, 2010). For that statement to be accurate, every vehicle in Minnesota would need to be permanently equipped with a breath testing locking device as standard equipment. This is not the case. The requirement is limited in duration and other unequipped vehicles are available for use. What's stopping a person from driving another's vehicle? What safeguards are there after the device is removed?

Additionally, the governor's cost expectations are deceptively low. The actual cost to drivers is quite high. Although the cost varies from company to company, drivers must pay to have the device installed and removed, in addition to the monthly fee.

Already, DWI drivers must pay a reinstatement fee of $680. Currently, drivers are required to pay this before they are eligible for a work permit. The current proposal eliminates the availability of work permits and hardship licenses. As a result, the total cost of reinstatement and interlock would be cost prohibitive to many, particularly in this economic climate. Based on my observations, Minnesotans will drive without a valid license if they cannot afford to pony up the funds necessary to drive legally. In the end, the high costs of the program will create more criminals while falling short of expectations.

Not only will the changes not meet expectations, but they will further erode citizens' constitutional rights (the "DWI exception| to the constitution). Our current Minnesota DWI laws operate under a |shoot first, ask questions later| mentality. When a driver's alcohol test is .08 or more, their license to drive is automatically revoked, based solely on the accusation. Under this plan, a person would be forced not only to endure the license revocation, but forced to pay well over a thousand dollars to be able to drive. Yet drivers would receive no refund In the event they ultimately prevail by demonstrating the test was erroneous or invalid, or that their rights were otherwise violated.

So are the proposed changes a panacea or a patsy? Time will tell....

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