PRESS RELEASE
By Phillip B. Price, Sr. Attorney

The Alabama legislature passed into law a new version of Alabama’s DUI statute, increasing greatly the penalties that will apply to certain cases.  Persons who are arrested for DUI after September 1, 2011 and whose blood alcohol is .15% or greater will be subject to the new law. The basics of the bill are intended to address those people who are convicted of DUI who have a particularly high alcohol level in their blood. The pertinent part of the act reads as follows:

“When any person convicted of violating this section (DUI code section 32-5A-191, Code of Alabama 1975) is found to have had at least 0.15 percent or more by weight of alcohol in his or her blood while operating or being in actual physical control of a vehicle, he or she shall be sentenced to at least double the minimum punishment that the person would have received if he or she had less than 0.15 percent by weight of alcohol in his or her blood. If the adjudicated offense is a misdemeanor, the minimum punishment shall be imprisonment for one year, all of which may be suspended except as otherwise provided for in Section 32-5A-191(f) and Section 32-5A-191 (g). In addition, the director of Public Safety shall revoke the driving privileges or driver’s license of the person convicted for a period of not less than one year.”

How many cases will be affected by the new law? If we use approximate figures derived from statistics from 2009, about 7000 cases statewide could be subjected to the new law.

How will the cases be affected? Those people convicted pursuant to the new law are facing a minimum sentence of one year in jail. Generally the sentences that are presently spelled out in the Alabama DUI statute would be doubled by the sentencing judge under the new law. As mentioned, even for first time offenders, the person convicted of DUI with these high BAC numbers of .15% or higher will receive a sentence of one year imprisonment. According to the wording of not only the body of the act, but also the title of the act (new subject matter of an amended act must be spelled out in the title to the act) the sentence of someone convicted of DUI with a blood alcohol of .15% or greater will be one year in jail. The act gives the sentencing court the authority to suspend the entire jail sentence of a first offense DUI. The fine amount would be doubled to $1200 to $4200 for first time offenders.  As a practical matter, it is expected that in many cases the bulk or the entirety of this one year will be suspended and the individual convicted of DUI with a BAC of .15% or higher will be placed on probation with this huge sentence hanging over his or her head during the duration of the probation period If the person violates a condition of his probation, the sentencing judge may impose the full year of imprisonment or any part thereof for the person to serve. There are certain fines which apply to DUI misdemeanor convictions as well as mandatory minimum sentences in jail that apply to 2nd, 3rd and subsequent offenses. Both the fine amounts and the mandatory minimum sentences to jail would be doubled by the new act. So the predicted practice for these offenders will be for their sentence to be one year in jail and all but the mandatory minimum sentence would be suspended. The mandatory minimums sentence will be doubled, but they are also to receive the minimum sentence of one year.

In addition to the one year sentence imposed for all misdemeanor DUI offenses (with BAC of .15% or greater), the other penalties are doubled under the act for the pertinent offenders. The penalties will be applicable as follows:

Increased Fines and Mandatory Minimums Sentences Compared to Current Law


DUI Offense

Fine
Current Law

Fine

.15% BAC or Greater
New Act

Mandatory Minimum Sentence Current Law

Mandatory Minimum Sentence .15%
New Act

1st Offense

$600 to $1200

$1200 to $4200

0

0

2nd Offense

$1100 to $5100

$2200 to $10,200

5 Days or 30 days Community Service

10 Days or 60 days Community Service

3rd Offense

$2100 to $10,100

$4100 to $20,200

60 Days

120 Days

4th Offense or greater

$4100 to $10,100

$8200 to $20,200

10 days

20 days

Will Alabama Drivers Licenses be treated differently under the new DUI law? Yes, they will. Under the new DUI law a person who is convicted with a BAC of .15% or greater is subject to a revocation of their driver’s license and/or privilege for a period of one year. “Under .15%” cases will only face the current suspensions/revocations: 90 days for a first offense, 1 year for a 2nd and 3 years for a 3rd.  The act is totally silent in telling us whether the one-year revocation in the new act is in addition to the other suspensions. We will have to wait for a ruling on this one. On the one hand, it does not make sense that a three year revocation would be imposed under the old law for a 3rd offense DUI, but a one year revocation would be imposed under the .15% or greater law.  However the new law is silent and one would have to re-write the law to impose it differently from how it was written. Our system of law typically does not allow the law to be re-written by the courts.

In summary, the legislature has doubled the punishments to DUI offenders arrested after September 1, 2011. They have also established a minimum sentence to misdemeanor offenders of one year imprisonment. The one year imprisonment may be suspended, meaning that the offender does not serve the one year sentence unless he violates a term of his probation. In addition, a one year revocation of the person’s driver’s license will be imposed. As an editor’s note, it is my opinion that we will see an increase in the number of refusals of the breath test as a result of this act. How does one escape the wrath of this act? Just do not take the breath test and you will not be subject to its application.

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