New legislation has been enacted in Washington D.C. that is affecting the city’s penalties for DUI charges. Starting on August 1st of this year, in a statewide effort to crack down on impaired driving, punishments for DUI in Washington D.C. will dramatically increase. According to a MADD chart that ranks each state on a scale of 1-51 for rates of DUI-related traffic deaths, both Arizona and Washington D.C. ranked relatively low, both in the bottom 20% of the country. Arizona is still known for having some of the toughest DUI laws in the nation.
Arizona requires an ignition interlock device installed for one year for individuals convicted of a first-offense DUI charge. Further, ten days of jail time are also required, with up to $2,000 in fines and a 90-day license suspension. Even more strict: It’s possible to get a DUI charge in Arizona even if you are below the legal limit, because of the “impaired to the slightest degree” clause. With a higher BAC or an extreme DUI charge, these punishments go higher and higher. In Washington D.C., a DUI conviction with a BAC of 0.20 or higher (what is commonly known as a super-extreme DUI) now requires 10 days in jail, up from 5 days. In Arizona, the punishment for a first-time super extreme DUI charge is 45 days in jail. For second-time super extreme DUI? 6 months in jail.
One of the more serious effects of these new changes over in Washington D.C., one which goes more unnoticed, is that any blood, breath, or urine test used to prove various types of impairment can now be entered into trial as evidence without the accompanying presence or testimony of the analyst or officer who conducted the test. This is a significant issue in regards to the Confrontation Clause of the 6th Amendment. A defendant has the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses testifying against him or her. Recently decided cases in the Supreme Court, including Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (2009) and Bullcoming v. New Mexico (2011) have specified that analysts and officers who conduct these forensic tests are covered by this clause, and they are required to give accompanying testimony to the evidence they have produced. These decisions were made to help uncover any potential problems and mistakes made by an analyst during a test, which can be a serious legal problem if gone unnoticed.
These new changes in Washington D.C. have removed this rightful ability to confront witnesses in a court of law. It is likely that the Constitutionality of this change will not go unchallenged, since this issue has already come under review. These strict DUI changes are certainly not limited to Arizona or Washington D.C., almost every state has enacted some type of strict legislation meant to deter impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel. But these laws should not infringe on basic constitutional rights, which are inalienable and are designed to protect citizens. These new changes have been in place for little more than a week, so keep your eyes open for new developments to come.