Drunk driving: Have we opened Pandora’s Box?

Have you or a friend ever been arrested for drunk driving? Many drivers have had one slipup with the law. You do not have to be an alcoholic or avid drinker to get charged with OWI. Sometimes, you do not drink much at all, and one glass of wine leads you into a situation you did not realize was possible. You can have some sympathy for one-time drunk driving offenders. Life happens.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, more people in Wisconsin are arrested for first-offense drunk driving than for repeat drunk driving. In 2015, Green Bay arrested 370 motorists for first-offense OWI.

This statistic is especially relevant today, as Governor Scott Walker recently signed a new bill into law, which will greatly affect suspects stopped for first-offense drunk driving. 

Closing the loophole on drunk driving

According to the new law, motorists stopped on suspicion of drunk driving will not have the right to refuse blood tests that determine their blood-alcohol content. Now in effect, the law will allow police to request a warrant from judges in an effort to secure blood samples. Authorities assert that it is difficult to arrest drunk driving suspects who refuse a chemical test.

What do police do without the blood sample? In such cases, police rely on field sobriety tests and other probable cause measures to make a drunk driving arrest. Note that a blood test is not the only method used to prove drunk driving.

With such a large number of first-time drunk driving suspects in the state, Wisconsin can undoubtedly expect an increase in OWI arrests and convictions in coming years.

Proponents of the new law suggest a blood test is the best way to prove a motorist is driving under the influence. Supporters feel the new law will help “close a loophole” or secure more drunk driving arrests in vague cases. Conversely, opponents fear that Wisconsin may be “opening Pandora’s Box.”

Does the new drunk driving law go too far?

In general, warrants are for criminal matters. However, technically, first-offense drunk driving is still not a crime in Wisconsin; it is a civil penalty. That said, this all begs the question: Is the law going too far?

If the legal change is relevant for one ordinance, it may be possible for several others. It’s a big jump in terms of securing a drunk driving conviction. Furthermore, is closing the legal loophole done at the expense of suspects’ Fourth Amendment rights? What do you think?



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