N.D. lawmakers look to remedy dual convictions for DUI, refusal
BISMARCK – State lawmakers are looking to clear up several areas of a tougher drunken driving law approved last year, including one provision that allows offenders to be convicted for both DUI and refusing a field sobriety test in the same incident.
Since the DUI law took effect July 1, 13 people have been convicted of both crimes for the same event, Glenn Jackson, director of the driver’s licenses division at the North Dakota Department of Transportation, told the Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
The department takes action only on the first conviction and not the second when suspending the driver’s license, Jackson said. However, if the person is later convicted of a second DUI, it’s listed as a third conviction on their driving record, which he said can mean the difference between a 180-day suspension and a yearlong suspension.
Committee members said Tuesday that wasn’t the law’s intent.
“I would say it’s unfair to those drivers,” said Sen. Kelly Armstrong, a Dickinson Republican and an attorney.
Jackson had previously told the committee in December that the department had received 56 convictions for DUI and/or test refusal, but he said there actually have been 13 dual convictions.
“So, it does happen, but it’s very rare,” he said.
The new DUI law, House Bill 1302, made test refusal a separate criminal offense with the same penalties as a DUI. The constitutionality of that provision is currently before the North Dakota Supreme Court, and most prosecutors are treating test refusal as an alternative charge so defendants won’t be convicted of both, said Aaron Birst, legal counsel for the North Dakota Association of Counties.
Still, prosecutors would like the law clarified not only for themselves but also for authorities who make DUI arrests, he said.
“Law enforcement has been struggling figuring out what they’re supposed to do,” he said.
Armstrong presented a draft bill for the committee to consider that would clarify that someone can’t be convicted of both crimes arising out of the same incident.
Other draft bills presented Tuesday would remove the law’s requirement that first-time juvenile DUI offenders participate in the 24/7 program, leaving it to the judge’s discretion; limit to 15 years the look-back period when determining whether a DUI is a fourth or subsequent offense; and allow drivers to remedy an initial test refusal by submitting to a chemical test.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, said members will take up the draft bills at their June meeting and decide which bills to recommend to the 2015 Legislature.
Birst said it’s too early to say whether the tougher DUI law is working to reduce drunken driving, but he noted there were seven alcohol-related traffic fatalities through May 1 of this year, compared with 17 during the same period last year and 20 at the same point in 2012.
Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org