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.
Tag Archives: ignition interlock
The National Center for State Courts recently published an Ignition Interlock Report reviewing the latest research on ignition interlock programs. Two of the studies cited reported efficacy rates striking enough to attract the attention of any policy wonk interested in highway safety.
On Monday, I spoke to a group of DMV hearing officers about administrative order writing. These are the officials who hold hearings to determine whether a person’s driver’s license is subject to revocation or reinstatement. The bases for hearing officer action run the gamut. They exercise discretion in determining whether a person’s license is revoked for accumulating too many driver’s license points or for excessive speeding. They evaluate and weigh evidence to determine whether a person charged with an implied consent offense did, in fact, willfully refuse chemical testing. They hold hearings to determine whether a person whose license has been restored following a DWI has violated a condition of the reinstatement. They also determine whether to conditionally restore the licenses of people convicted of impaired driving before the end of the statutory revocation period.
I can’t say whether the hearing officers learned much from me. But, as is always the case when I interact with a room full of public servants, I learned something from them on Monday. Beginning in January 2018, DMV plans to assess fees for these types of hearings. Some of them are as high as $450.
Legislation enacted by the General Assembly this session again makes it possible for persons convicted of habitual impaired driving to (eventually) have their driving privileges restored.
As state crime lab backlogs increase, it takes longer and longer for blood drawn in connection with impaired driving cases to be tested.
In some of these cases, the State may opt to proceed to trial without the results. And sometimes defendants are eager to plead guilty before such blood is tested.
A defendant who believes that her alcohol concentration was 0.15 or more may determine that even without the blood test results, there is an abundance of evidence to establish her guilt. And, if by pleading guilty, the defendant can avoid having the blood tested, then she also can avoid the requirement that she have ignition interlock installed on all of her vehicles for a year following the restoration of her driver’s license.
A few questions arise in the context of such pleas.
May a judge accept such a plea knowing that the blood has not yet been tested?
G.S. 20-139.1(e2) (discussed here) requires that an implied consent case in district court “be continued until the analyst can be present.” For this requirement to apply, however, the State must seek a continuance. Moreover, G.S. 20-139.1(e2) primarily addresses circumstances in which a chemical analyst’s affidavit may be admitted into evidence under G.S. 20-139.1(e1). The continuance requirement thus applies in circumstances in which the analysis already has been performed. The statute does not require continuance so that an analysis may be performed.
May a district attorney agree not to seek a continuance and call such a case for arraignment and trial in order for the defendant to plead guilty?
An alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more is an aggravating factor in an impaired driving case sentenced under G.S. 20-179. The prosecutor is required to present all aggravating factors of which he is aware and also is required “[i]n every instance in which a valid chemical analysis is made of the defendant” to “present evidence of the resulting alcohol concentration.” G.S. 20-179(a)(2). Here, however, no chemical analysis has yet been performed. Thus, these statutory requirements are not implicated.
How does a district attorney prevent the blood from being tested in such cases?
The district attorney submits a “Case Disposition Notice” notifying the state crime lab that the case has been disposed of and that the analysis does not need to be completed.
What if the blood is tested after the defendant’s guilty plea?
This might occur if the prosecutor doesn’t submit a notification that the analysis does not need to be performed or if the blood is tested before the request is received.
In such circumstances, a defendant who pleads guilty to avoid ignition interlock may not receive the benefit she expected. Upon completing its analysis, the state crime lab will submit the chemical analyst’s affidavit directly to DMV as well as to the clerk and the district attorney. If the affidavit reflects an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more, DMV will impose ignition interlock pursuant to G.S. 20-17.8, which requires that “the results of a chemical analysis, as shown by an affidavit or affidavits executed pursuant to G.S. 20-16.2(c1)” be used by DMV to determine a person’s alcohol concentration.