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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nationwide Weak Interlock Compliance Revealed

MADD Monitors Cases and Finds Low Rates of Fulfillment

During (MADD)'s 2007 Operation Memorial Day, only one of the eight states monitored demonstrated unfailing compliance with its ignition interlock laws. Some form of interlock law was in place in each state that participated in court monitoring.

In Nebraska, Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas, MADD court trackers monitored 487 drunk driving cases filed over the 2007 Memorial Day weekend. The cases were monitored over a six-month period, from May 2007 to November 2007. Court monitors tracked several categories, including whether ignition interlocks were included as part of sanctions, the offenders’ ages, and if the cases involved first-time or repeat offenders.

In Albuquerque, N.M., in all the DUI cases monitored, alcohol ignition interlocks were part of the sentencing. In 2005, New Mexico passed a comprehensive first-conviction ignition interlock law. Despite Louisiana passing ignition interlocks in 2007, court monitors were not able to conclude whether interlocks would be mandated because a disproportionate number (8 out of 9) of the cases were still pending after six months. Ignition interlocks in Nebraska were only mandated in roughly 20 percent of the monitored cases.

MADD Nebraska Executive Director Simera Reynolds said, "With the new law going into effect in January 2009, MADD expects interlock compliance to increase dramatically."

To avoid the installation of the ignition interlock device, it was found that a large majority of Houston defendants chose jail time for punishment, instead of probation. This practice is currently under the investigation of members of the criminal justice system.

"It [the ignition interlock device] is one of the most effective ways to keep the roads safe for everyone and help decrease repeat offenses," says Hope Rangel, MADD Southeast Texas Region.

"Interlocks require offenders to drive sober, which protects the public, allows the offenders to work, and keeps them from driving on a suspended license, which many offenders do, unfortunately."

Trained in court observing procedures, MADD volunteers note the outcomes. Court monitors, after reviewing more than 5,000 cases from the past 18 months, take the data analyzed and focus on whether interlocks are part of sentencing, if appropriate under the law; reducing the number of dismissals and increasing the amount of guilty pleas. Court monitors then work with members of the criminal justice community to determine progress in these areas. They also work together with law enforcement to run "No Refusal" nights, which can help further the DUI process and conviction success. Drivers who are detained for drunk driving are given a mandatory blood test if they refuse a breath test to verify their blood alcohol content.

Ten communities participated in Operation Memorial Day 2007, including those in Nebraska, Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas. In 2008, the project will continue with new cities participating.

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