Strict DUI Laws Not Needed in Arrest of Intoxicated Officer

An officer with the Utah Department of Public Safety was arrested for driving intoxicated and Utah’s strict DUI laws were not needed in this case.

Concerned fellow drivers

Photo by: Ken Lund

Photo by: Ken Lund

A Utah High Patrol trooper pulled over a vehicle north of Panguitch Utah after numerous calls from concerned drivers all reported the vehicle driving erratically. The driver of the car was 35 year old Jason James Whitehead, an armed public safety officer who was more than halfway through his journey from Ogden Utah to Lake Powell for training. Local county officers called to assist noted a bottle of Vodka on the front passenger seat that was halfway empty.

Failed field sobriety tests

Whitehead was arrested for DUI, open container, and carrying a weapon while intoxicated.  Whitehead not only failed his field sobriety tests prior to his arrest, he was barely able to carry on a conversation or walk around on his own. Police reports do not indicate whether a breathalyzer was used to check if Whitehead was legally considered driving intoxicated. From the sound of the situation however, Whitehead was far from being a possible victim of Utah’s new strict DUI laws .

Strict DUI laws of Utah

Strict DUI Laws

(Edited) Photo by: Mark Goebel

The State of Utah has been receiving considerable backlash lately for its strict DUI laws that many deem unfair compared to the rest of the nation. This public outcry comes on the heels of a bill passed to lower the BAC limit in Utah to.05% which is .03% less than everywhere else in the nation who stand at .08%. This lowered BAC limit is set to become law in Utah at the end of 2018. Numerous residents of Utah are opposed to Utah’s strict DUI laws, accusing lawmakers of making money off the social (non-religious) drinker and preying on those visiting from other states who are oblivious to the strict DUI laws. Business owners in Utah such as restaurants and bars are also lamenting the lowered BAC limit as they are likely to be hit financially with the lack of revenue from lowered alcohol sales.

Go for the big fish

While the general public is grateful when a dangerously intoxicated driver such as Officer Whitehead is removed from the road, few residents want or expect every individual who enjoyed a drink with lunch to end up facing criminal charges. This does not strike the majority of people as an appropriate way to spend taxpayer dollars or how an officer should “discharge the duties of [their] office with fidelity”. For more information on Utah’s strict DUI laws or for legal counsel regarding criminal charges, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Surge of DUI Arrests Anticipated if Lower Blood Alcohol Limit Becomes Utah State law

A bill to lower the blood alcohol limit in Utah could soon become law and will likely result in a surge of DUI arrests.

Utah pioneering the way

Photo by: Nicolas Raymond

Photo by: Nicolas Raymond

Up until now, all 50 states including Utah had a .08% blood alcohol limit for drivers. The only time drivers faced criminal charges for a BAC lower than .08% was if they were active commercial truck drivers who were not allowed to reach or exceed a blood alcohol limit of.04%. Now Utah may be the first state in the nation to decrease the blood alcohol limit beyond the.08% down to .05%. A bill lowering the blood alcohol limit in Utah recently passed the House and was voted 4-2 by a Senate committee. If the bill passes the senate, it will more than likely result in a spike of DUI arrests from those who enjoy a drink after work or with dinner.

Forgo that drink with dinner

Photo by: Daniel Lee

Photo by: Daniel Lee

The blood alcohol limit can vary depending on gender and body weight, as well as other factors. According to the National highway Traffic Safety Administration, if a woman weight 100 pounds and consumed within an hour one 12 ounce beer, a 5 ounce glass of wine, or a single shot of a 40% alcohol spirit, according to the revised law, she would be considered legally intoxicated. A 160 pound man would be intoxicated after consuming two drinks. A single glass of wine or a couple beers are common beverage choices for persons to consume with their meal when dining out or stopping for drinks with friends. Unfortunately since Utah is getting closer to decreasing the blood alcohol limit to .05% if HB 155 passes, restaurants may want to ensure patrons have a designated driver before offering the beer and wine list.

Blood alcohol limit revised

Blood Alcohol Limit

Photo by: West Midlands Police

The revisions to DUI laws that were passed by the House and the Senate Committee are as follows: “ A person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state if the person:

(a) has sufficient alcohol in the person’s body that a subsequent chemical test shows that the person has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of [.08] .05 grams or greater at the time of the test;

(b) is under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle; or

(c) has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of [.08] .05 grams or greater at the time of operation or actual physical control.”

Along with an increased risk of DUI arrests for social drinkers, the revisions to the DUI laws would mean more people could face automobile homicide charges if they were involved in fatal accidents after having a drink or two. The bill would adjust Utah Code 76-5-207 to state “Criminal homicide is automobile homicide, a third degree felony, if the person operates a motor vehicle in a negligent manner causing the death of another and:
(i) has sufficient alcohol in his body that a subsequent chemical test shows that the person has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of [.08] .05 grams or greater at the time of the test; ( . . . )
(iii) has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of [.08] .05 grams or greater at the time of operation.”

(Near)Zero tolerance for adults

Photo by: Victor

Photo by: Victor

Utah has a zero tolerance law for DUI drivers under the age of 21 and if HB 155 passes, the law for adults would be nearly zero tolerance as well. According to Utah Code 41-6a-505, those found guilty of a DUI (from the new blood alcohol content of .05 % or more) would face:

• 48 hour incarceration or home confinement;

• $700 fine;

• 90 day license suspension;

• Vehicle impound fees; and

• Possible screening, assessment, or educational classes or treatment.

With Utah pioneering a crackdown on any driving after consuming alcohol, it is more important than ever to make sure those facing charges related to driving under the influence are represented by a skilled criminal defense attorney.

Impaired Driving – The Reduced DUI Charge for Utah Drivers

Utah drivers who are arrested for a DUI need to know there’s a chance they may be offered a reduced charge known as impaired driving. Although this charge is slightly better than a DUI, it is best to consult with a criminal defense attorney to find out if it is the best option available.

Don’t settle without legal counsel

DUI

Photo by: SanDiego DUIAttorney

When a driver is arrested for a DUI, they may accept whatever charges are thrown at them; this is a major mistake that many Utah drivers make. There is a possibility that a DUI charge can be reduced to impaired driving instead. The option for this reduced charge is not something the prosecution will always offer voluntarily, so it is encouraged to have an educated attorney on your side can help ensure this option is available to those who qualify. If a prosecutor willingly and swiftly offers a plea bargain of impaired driving, it is best to consult with an attorney before agreeing as there may be a better option out there.

DUI-Driving under the influence

A DUI is what Utah Code 41-6a-502 defines as “driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both or with specified or unsafe blood alcohol concentration”. A person may face a DUI charge if they operate a vehicle with a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .08 grams or higher. They may also face a DUI charge if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs which would “render the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle.” If someone is arrested for a DUI, it is considered a class B misdemeanor and the guilty party can plan on spending at least 48 hours of jail time, losing their Utah’s driver’s license, and dishing out a hefty fine.

DWI – driving while impaired (impaired driving)

Impaired Driving

Photo by: SanDiego DUIAttorney

DUI and impaired driving; these two terms may sound like different ways of saying the same thing, but there are slight differences that are important to understand. Impaired driving is considered a reduced DUI charge of one degree and according to Utah Code 41-6a-502.5, “[w]ith the agreement of the prosecutor, a plea to a class B misdemeanor violation of [a DUI] may be entered as a conviction of impaired driving ( . . . ) if:

a) The defendant completes court ordered probation requirements; or

b) (i) the prosecutor agrees as part of a negotiated plea; and

(ii) the court find the plea to be in the interest of justice.”
Those facing impaired driving charges are less likely to spend time in jail and will usually have a smaller fine.

Additionally, those facing impaired driving charges will typically either have their driver’s license suspended for half the time of what can happen with a DUI or they may not lose their license at all.

Not for everyone

Not all DUI charges have the potential for being reduced to an impaired driving charge. These plea deals are saved for those who are first time offenders without a criminal history. If someone is hurt or if a minor is in the vehicle at the time of arrest, then a DUI charge will not decrease but increase instead to a class B misdemeanor. If a person is seriously injured because of someone negligently driving under the influence, then the charges can increase even higher to a third degree felony. This is the same charge for repeat offenders with two or more convictions of a DUI or impaired driving within the last 10 years. Regardless of whatever charges a defendant is facing, a criminal defense attorney will help ensure the best possible outcome for his client.