DUI Laws Under Question

By: Michael Gorsegner
By: Michael Gorsegner

November 3, 2005

"My son was killed in 1997. He was riding with his best friend and his best friend ran off the road and hit a tree and he was killed," said State MADD Chair Carter Hill, Sr.

Hill lost his son, Carter Hill, Jr. over eight years ago in a drunk driving accident. Since that day, Hill has dedicated countless hours of time to Mother's Against Drunk Driving in hopes of making a difference.

"I made up my mind the day it happened that all my energy was going to go into something positive," he said.

Two year's ago, MADD was instrumental in the General Assembly's passing of 25 new DUI laws. These new laws have vaulted Virginia to the forefront in drunk driving legislation. These laws include some of the harshest penalties for first time offenders.

"What would surprise people is that in a great number of first offenses you have mandatory jail sentence and mandatory ignition interlock," said Attorney David Heilberg.

A first offense with a blood alcohol level above .15 will land you a minimum of five days in jail. Blow over a .21 and that sentence turns to a ten day minimum. But the penalties do not end there. First time offenders with a BAC over .15 must have an ignition interlock. That device mandates that a driver must take a breathlyzer test each and ever time he or she drives the car.

"As a rule of thumb, Virginia has tougher laws than all the bordering states," said Heilberg.

Heilberg believes certain parts of the drunk driving laws are fundamentally incorrect. He has a motion before the Virginia Supreme Court set for December. He argues that these mandatory sentences for high blood alcohol content deprives the accused of their Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

"It is my position that the only conceivable way to Constitutionally admit the breath test and give somebody mandatory jail, would be by then offering them a blood test," he said.

When jail time is at stake, Heilberg says a blood test is the only way to tell a person's actual "blood" alcohol content. With all of these new laws under question, Hill says it is a lot to think about but he knows he must forge on for the greater good.

"Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming, but you got to do it. It's my job and I am going to do it," Hill said.

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