November 26, 2014

Drugged driving: The hard-to-prosecute DUI

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(WAAY) - When you think of a Driving Under the Influence charge, you might think of alcohol first. But law enforcement is facing some challenges when it comes to prosecuting drugged drivers.
According to the Center for Advanced Public Safety, more than 6,000 DUI-related accidents happened in the state last year, killing 208 people.

"This is another Christmas we don't get to have anymore," said Kevin Taylor.
Not a day goes by that Taylor doesn't think about the memories he's missed out on when his brother David was killed in 2002.
"I just collapsed. I was like why, how, what. He said he had been killed by a drunk driver." said Taylor.
The 42-year-old father of two was on his way home to Muscle Shoals from work when a 17-year-old ran a stop sign and slammed into his van.
"He was full of alcohol and drugs both in his system to the point he shouldn't have been walking much less driving," said Taylor.
The teenage driver was sentenced to 20 years behind bars for manslaughter. The accident also led to a change in law. In 2009, the state passed Taylor's Law in his honor, to make teenagers understand driving is a privilege not a right. Now some are calling for another change in the law.
"You never know when one DUI will become the one that cost somebody their life, and I carry that thought with me every time I prosecute a DUI," said Limestone District Assistant District Attorney Matt Huggins.
Huggins handles the majority of DUI cases in Limestone County. But he said he has a tough time getting a guilty conviction when prescription pills and illegal drugs are involved.
"Under current Alabama law, it is difficult for us to prove DUI Controlled Substance and the reason is that there is no legal presumption for a level of intoxication. For example, with DUI alcohol there is a presumption that if your blood level is 0.08 percent or higher that your legally presumed to be under the influence of alcohol. With prescription drugs, there is no such presumption," said Huggins.
In most cases, Huggins said he needs a blood test to prove the level and type of intoxication.
"If the defendant doesn't admit that they have been taking prescription drugs, if we do not find them in the car, it's not very likely we will get a guilty conviction without a blood test," said Huggins.
Now Senator Arthur Orr is sponsoring a bill that would better define the influence limits of illegal and prescription drugs.
For example, the bill would put a legal limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood of THC found in marijuana, a measure that matches other state's laws. Any amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine, and a list of nine prescription medications would also be considered under the influence unless driver's have a prescription for the substance and are taking it as prescribed.
"You see many other states going towards this. And then when I mentioned it to our prosecutors, they were very much in favor of it because we have a lot people driving under the influence of drugs. And it's very hard difficult to prosecute them but they are taking the rest of the driving public's safety in their own hands" said Orr.
It's a lesson the Taylor family will never forget and justice they will never stop fighting for.
"I don't get to say OK Lord, bring him back out of the ground. He's been in there long enough. He got to spend his twenty years like the other guy did. Bring him on back. That doesn't happen," said Taylor.
Senator Orr presented the bill in this year's legislative session but it was indefinitely postponed. He plans to try again next year. If the law were passed, no blood test could be done without the driver's consent or a search warrant.
To read the bill, click here.


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The acronyms DUI, DWI, OMVI and OVI all refer to the same thing: operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The most commonly used terms are DUI, an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, and DWI, an acronym for Driving While Impaired.
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