Recent Drunk Drunk Law Struck Down As Unconstitutional

A recent law to stop repeat drunk driving has been struck down in Oklahoma as it was declared unconstitutional by the state supreme court.  Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MAAD) have been working for decades to curb drink driving.  They are working to raise money to fund anti-drunk driving campaigns, host educational programs such as the court-mandated victim impact panel (VIP), and to pay for efforts to lobby public officials to enact real change at the state and federal policy level.

Boston drunk driving lawyerIf you have ever watched a drunk driving public service announcement, listened to one in the car when driving on the radio, or seen a highway billboard, you may have noticed a common trend. They all seem to play on the fear impaired drivers have of being arrested.  This is somewhat of a sad commentary, considering the real concern should be that drunk driving can and often does cause serious personal injury or even death. However, drunk driver focus groups over the years have shown the primary concern these individuals have is to their own freedom and well-being, not the hypothetical losses of someone they don’t know. 

The Real Risk of Drunk Driving Crashes in Boston

The real fear, however, is that drunk driving causes personal injury and death, and that is why MAAD and other organizations are working so hard to curb drink driving. As our Boston drunk driving accident lawyers can explain, drunk driving has such a recidivism rate that many people will keep driving drunk even after multiple convictions and that only serves to increase the risk of a serious drunk driving accident because it is often a case of when and not if a crash will occur.

One way that drunk drivers are kept off the roads is that the state has the authority to revoke a suspect’s driving privileges even if they have not been convicted of a crime.  This is done through an administrative process whereby an administrative law judge (ALJ) will hear from the arresting police officer or state trooper and then hear any defense from the suspect.  If his or her testimony is not convincing, the ALJ can revoke driving privileges.  This is often enough to keep people off the road, but it is not true in every case.   Some drunk driving are alcoholics and will drink every day and then get behind the wheel of a car, license or not.  If the hearing does not go well, the driver can appeal the denial of a license. If the driver is eventually convicted of the criminal offense of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicating liquor (OUI), there will be little chance of getting to keep the driver’s license.

According to a recent news article from Oklahoma’s News Four, the Oklahoma Supreme court in a 5-4 ruling has just overturned a new drunk driving law on grounds that it was unconstitutional.  In Hunsucker v. Fallin, it started when the state legislature created a law abolishing the right to appeal a drunk driving administrative suspension of a driver’s license. This legislature was part of an initiative by MADD to keep drunk drivers off the roads.  The agency realizes that many DUI defendants will be able to avoid a conviction for various reasons that have nothing to do with them being sober.  This can include anything from getting the case dismissed for a violation of the discovery process or even the police not showing up for trial.  In the case of  misdemeanor drunk driving trial in the Boston Municipal Court, if the police or state troopers do not show up for trial on time, the case may be dismissed for want of prosecution (DWP).

This does not however, meant that a drunk driver who has had his or her case dismissed from criminal court will not be able to prove a civil personal injury lawsuit involving a drunk driving crash. On reason for this is because the standard of proof is much higher in a criminal case than a civil case.  There is also the issue of arresting law enforcement officers not showing for trial.  While the government will be facing a dismissal if their police officers do not show up to trial, in the case of a party subpoenaing an arresting officer in a civil case, if the officer does not show up, the court can have the sheriff find the officer and make them come to court to testify.  While this may seem strange since they will not typically issue a material witness warrant in a criminal case if an officer does not show up, the reason they will do it in a civil case is because the local police or state troopers are not considered on the same team as the plaintiff like they are with the prosecutor.

This is not to say that if the prosecutor has a problem with the complaining witness being  successful in a subsequent civil case, but a conviction is the primary goal of any prosecutor.  Technically, the state prosecutors typically claim they are not just trying to secure a conviction, but rather to see that justice is served even if that means an acquittal, but as a practical matter, success is often measured by getting a conviction.

In the case of this new law that was struck down before it went into effect, the issue had to do with Due Process. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution made applicable to the states though the Fourteenth Amendment and the process of selective incorporation.  The Fifth Amendment states in part that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law. This protection on property has been extended to include loss of driving privileges by the state supreme court and the right to appeal is also been held to be an essential part of one’s Fifth Amendment rights.  While the term property was changed to the pursuit of happiness in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence  to get around the issue of slaves not being allowed to own property, the original text was retained in the Firth Amendment.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston drunk driving accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Oklahoma Supreme Court rules new drunken driving law is unconstitutional, December 19, 2017, Oklahoma’s News Four

More Blog Entries:

Former NFL Quarterback Vince Young Given Probation for Drunk Driving, Feb. 7, 2017, Boston Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Blog