The Minnesota state legislature is considering a bill that would require ignition interlock devices be installed in the vehicles of all DWI offenders, even for a first offense.According to this article from KARE11, the Senate transportation committee heard testimony on the proposal, and hopes to take action on the bill later in the session. It has the strong support of Governor Pawlenty.
Currently in use in a Minnesota pilot program, an interlock device requires that a person with a DWI conviction have this rolling breathalyzer system installed in his or her car. The person must blow into the device, which will not allow the ignition to start if any alcohol is detected on his or her breath.
Groups opposed to first time DWI offenders, such as the American Beverage Institute, a trade group for bars and restaurants, promote the view that a requirement for this device on any first offense unfairly equates a one-time mistake of being slightly over the limit, with a serious alcoholic with multiple offenses, or someone who was charged with drunk driving, perhaps at twice over the legal limit of .08%BAC. While clearly biased towards not eliminating potential customers, the ABI generally supports these laws for multiple offenders, or high BAC (“extreme” drunk driving) cases.
Weighing in with the opposite clearly biased view, testimony by Smart Start, one of the manufacturers of these ignition interlock systems, came down strongly in support of this law.
There is a nationwide effort by MADD and other groups to promote 1st offense drunk driving conviction interlock laws. These laws are currently active in Arizona, Illinois, and at least six other states, with many other states like Maryland seriously considering similar proposals.
Our view on this matter is that ignition interlocks on ALL first offense drunk driving cases goes too far. Given that the court system is set up to make it very difficult to fight DWI charges, many people simply plead guilty with cases that are questionable and winnable, just to get their driver’s licenses back quicker.
Those people will now face a more difficult choice of whether to fight the charges in court or plead guilty and have to deal with the hassle and expense of an interlock system.
Counter-intuitively, these harsher laws may actually be good news for DWI defense attorneys. A defendant who barely blows a .08% BAC, or who refuses a breath test, and whose job depends on driving multiple vehicles will be more inclined to fight his DWI charges in court. If a guilty plea will automatically cost him his job, it can make sense to roll the dice for a chance at an acquittal.