The North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission released last November a report recommending several changes to the state’s impaired driving laws and correctional policies. The report marked the culmination of more than three years of study that included examination of DWI sentencing and correctional data as well as consideration of input from law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and providers of substance abuse treatment. The report’s fifteen recommendations address issues ranging from pretrial conditions of release for defendants charged with impaired driving to the place of confinement for defendants serving active sentences.
Category Archives: Motor Vehicles
This is not the first (and likely will not be the last) blog post about research findings and strategies to reduce impaired driving. A few months ago, I wrote about a veteran researcher’s recommendations to expand ignition interlock and conduct more high visibility enforcement. Last week, I wrote about the risks posed by impaired drivers, the prevalence of impairment by alcohol versus other impairing substances, and the percentage of impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes who have previously been convicted of impaired driving. This week’s post addresses research in two areas related to efforts to reduce impaired driving: (1) the impact of transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft, on the incidence of impaired driving; and (2) British Columbia’s success in reducing impaired driving through a program imposing administrative, rather than criminal, sanctions.
Happy New Year, everyone.
A few months ago, I blogged about the continuing phenomenon of impaired driving, the fatalities resulting from crashes involving impaired drivers, and recommendations from experts about how to reduce the incidence of impaired driving. Some of the feedback I received indicated that talk of solutions ought to be preceded by common agreement on the nature of the problem.
Legislation passed this fall allows for more remote license renewals, supports the study of futuristic license plates, exempts drivers and passengers in some open-air autocycles from helmet requirements, and makes it easier to buy an alcoholic beverage the day after your twenty-first birthday. Continue reading →
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released this report on fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2018. The number of traffic fatalities nationwide decreased modestly last year as did the number of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities. In North Carolina, the number of fatalities in both categories modestly increased in 2018. In the aggregate, neither the national nor the state numbers reflect much change in the fatality rate associated with traffic crashes generally or impaired driving-related crashes specifically. While there were precipitous declines in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities from 1982 to 2000, since that time the number of impaired driving-related fatalities has remained rather constant. A similar plateau exists for all types of traffic fatalities, for which the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled has remained relatively static for the last decade. This flat trend line has safety advocates wondering what they can do, particularly in the impaired driving context, to push the trend line toward zero.
Late last month, the Supreme Court decided Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 588 U.S. ___ (June 27, 2019), a case in which the petitioner argued that the State of Wisconsin violated the Fourth Amendment by withdrawing his blood while he was unconscious without a warrant, following his arrest for impaired driving. Like many other states, including North Carolina, Wisconsin has a state statute that permits such blood draws. The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the petitioner’s conviction, though no single opinion from that court commanded a majority. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide “[w]hether a statute authorizing a blood draw from an unconscious motorist provides an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.” Though no justice found such a statutory exception and the judgment below was vacated, the outcome was not a win for the petitioner. Instead, a plurality of the court announced a State-favorable exigency rule, which it instructed the lower court to apply on remand.
May a law enforcement officer who personally investigates, but does not observe, a vehicle crash testify as to his opinion about who was driving the vehicle? Does the answer depend upon whether the officer is qualified as an expert in accident reconstruction? The court of appeals considered those questions in State v. Denton, ___ N.C. App. ___ (June 4, 2019), decided yesterday.
One person convicted of misdemeanor impaired driving may be placed on probation and ordered to complete 24 hours of community service. Another may receive an active sentence of three years’ imprisonment. The severity of the sentence depends largely on the presence of aggravating factors, which must be proved by the State.
When a misdemeanor impaired driving conviction entered in district court is appealed for trial de novo in superior court, the State must notify the defendant no later than ten days before trial that it intends to prove one or more aggravating factors. G.S. 20-179(a1)(1). If the State fails to provide that notice, the factors may not be used by the superior court to determine the defendant’s sentence. The court of appeals recently affirmed in State v. Hughes, ___ N.C. App. ___ (April 16, 2019), that there is no exception to this rule for aggravating factors that were found by the district court below.
The court of appeals just decided another case on the community caretaking doctrine. It’s the fourth published community caretaking case in the last five years, and there have been a couple of unpublished ones as well. The activity in the appellate division suggests that the doctrine is being invoked much more frequently in the trial courts. This post explains the new case and provides a quick refresher on the older ones.
The revocation of driver’s licenses for unpaid court costs and fines has been a hot topic of late. Much of the focus has centered around the spiral of debt that can result when an indigent person’s license is revoked for this reason. The narrative goes like this: The person is convicted of a relatively minor violation of the motor vehicle laws. Court costs and a fine are imposed. The person, who is financially unable to do so, fails to pay those amounts. Forty days after the judgment, the clerk of court reports the failure to pay to DMV. DMV mails a revocation order to the person, which becomes effective 60 days later. The person could forestall or end the revocation by paying the amounts owed, but she lacks the funds to do that. Yet she must drive in order to keep her job. So, notwithstanding the revocation, she continues to drive. Soon, she is charged with driving while license revoked and is convicted. Court costs are imposed again. And again, she lacks the funds to pay. DMV issues another revocation. When this cycle repeats itself over time, the person may wind up owing hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars in court debt, which, again, she lacks the resources to pay.