It is human nature to make mistakes. Being arrested for driving under the influence can be a frightening experience, and one that you immediately regret. Our justice system seeks to penalize those who break the law, and this goes for DUI offenses as well. This is how the legal system works. However, with proposed changes to Maryland’s Drunk Driving Reduction Act, even first-time offenders may find themselves facing extreme penalties, like ignition interlock devices (IIDs) installed in their vehicles.

I’m not going to pretend that it’s okay to drive drunk. I didn’t dress up like a kilted Stormtrooper at the Annapolis St. Patrick’s parade for nothin’, you know. And I’m also not going to pretend that it’s not a tragedy when a person dies because some dope thought they were safe to get behind the wheel. But I have a lot of problems with the proposed changes to this law and to IIDs in general.

So let’s talk about the basics.

What do they want to change in Noah’s Law?

In 2016, lawmakers passed The Drunk Driving Reduction Act in honor of Officer Noah Leotta, who was struck and killed by a drunk driver during a drunk driving checkpoint. The Drunk Driving Reduction Act, also called Noah’s Law, states that “all drivers convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol will have to blow into ignition devices to prove they haven’t drunk too much before their cars will start. Ignition interlock devices will have to be installed for six months in the vehicle of anyone who blows the legal limit of .08 in a breath test, or else the person’s license would be suspended for six months.”

Noah’s Law was put into effect after the tragic loss of a police officer, but now that police officer’s father wants changes made. Rich Leotta believes a major loophole in the bill needs closing. This loophole is regarding the fact that if a first-time offender charged with a DUI agrees to something called “probation before judgment,” or PBJ, then it is not required that Maryland judges install an interlock device on that person’s car.

What’s an ignition interlock device?

An ignition interlock device “is an in-car breathalyzer that prevents a user from starting a vehicle until a breath alcohol test is taken. IIDs are the term for devices sometimes referred to as ‘in-car breathalyzer’ or ‘car interlock’ or ‘blow and go’.” I have a lot of problems with IIDs. People make honest mistakes, and someone who drove home buzzed once should not be punished with an invasive device that requires time and effort to have it installed and maintained, and can be triggered easily with even something as innocent as mouthwash or an asthma inhaler.

And IIDs aren’t all that safe, either. The New York Times also reports that IIDs can cause unintended harm, like distracted driving and false positives:

A review by The New York Times of accident reports and lawsuits turned up dozens of examples of collisions in which the devices played a role. A Pennsylvania driver trying to complete a test blew so hard that he blacked out and crashed into a tree, nearly severing his left hand. Another in rural New Hampshire struck a telephone pole. And in California, a man attempting a rolling retest on a busy highway crossed the dividing line and hit another car, badly injuring a woman and killing her husband.

Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended in a draft document in 2010 that they did not intend drivers perform “rolling stops” to blow into their IIDs, the IID industry consistently pushed back, stating it was safe for them to take these tests while behind the wheel.

Not be petty, here, but IIDs also mess up a car pretty bad. These things get hard-wired into your cars, and they mess with your electrical system. Today’s cars are basically computers on wheels, so if there’s an issue with the electrical systems, you’re pretty much screwed. So now you’ve got a whole slew of other costs – installation costs, mechanics costs, repair costs – on top of all the fines and fees that come with a DUI, and I just don’t think it’s right.

What’s a probation before judgment?

Probation Before Judgment allows certain DUI and DWI defendants to comply with specific requirements after an arrest. If they complete these requirements successfully, they can state on job and other types of applications that they have never had a drunk driving conviction. Requirements for PBJ include:

  • Pleading no contest
  • Agreeing in writing to the PBJ terms
  • Paying restitution and fines as ordered
  • Attending to or complying with any treatments or custodial confinements such as home detention or alcohol program

If the defendant can abide by rules set out by the PBJ, then the charges against them can be dropped.

Here’s where things get a little hairy for me. As a criminal defense lawyer, I’m a big fan of PBJs as an alternative to blowing up someone’s life, and a PBJ is a good alternative for first-time offenders. I really believe in rehabilitation, not punishment. It’s why I practice criminal defense in Annapolis in the first place. And I’m not saying that breaking the law is okay. I’m just saying that the justice system treats drinkers like pariahs instead of trying to get them help. No one’s mad when I work to get a person addicted to drugs into a treatment program instead of jail; in certain circles, I’m applauded for it. So why shouldn’t I try to help a person who made a mistake and didn’t cause any harm find a better path forward? What makes people think a PBJ is less effective than an expensive, potentially dangerous IID? You think a device like an IID is really going to stop someone from driving drunk if they have a problem? I’m telling you, it’s not.

But a PBJ? That’s a lifeline for someone who messed up and is willing to do anything to make up for it.

Why you need an Annapolis DUI defense attorney

A DUI arrest, let alone a conviction, can affect your life in unexpected ways. Got a morality clause in your contract? There goes your job. Have a security clearance? You could lose that, too. Forget the jail time and the fines, which are pretty severe anyway – a DUI conviction can cost you everything. But it doesn’t have to.

If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence, and this is your first DUI charge, an experienced attorney can determine your eligibility for probation before judgement so you don’t have to be saddled with an inconvenient device that may not even work properly. An Annapolis defense lawyer can work with you to secure the most fair and reasonable outcome, which may lead to you avoiding any IIDs or an ugly mark on your criminal record. No matter the legal situation, having a lawyer is a good idea as the legal system is complicated and multifaceted, and an attorney can help you navigate these complex laws and rules.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, and are concerned about the possibility of an ignition interlock device, look to Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law. One mistake should not see you punished to the extreme for a crime you are not likely to make again. IIDs should be saved for those who have a history of drunk driving, and even then, IIDs are not foolproof and not always effective. Contact Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, at our Annapolis and Ellicott City office at 410-271-1892 to schedule an appointment, or fill out our easy contact form.

And remember – Keep Calm, and Call Drew.