Bill in Florida Legislature Would Require First DUI Offenders to Have Ignition Interlock Device Installed; Jacksonville DUI Lawyer Comments on Implications

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House Bill 479, filed for the Florida Legislature to consider at their March session, will require first offenders convicted of driving under the influence to have an ignition interlock device installed. Jacksonville DUI lawyer William Roelke, of Roelke Law, P.A., says the proposed law indicates legislators are taking a tougher stance on drunk driving.

"Each case, and every first DUI offender, has unique aspects which are not well-served by one-size-fits-all punishment," said William Roelke, Jacksonville DUI defense lawyer.

A bill the Florida Legislature will consider in its March session will make penalties a lot tougher for drunk drivers, especially first-time offenders. Under the proposed law, all first-time offenders will be required to have ignition interlock devices installed on their vehicles. Jacksonville DUI defense lawyer William Roelke said if the proposed legislation becomes law, Florida will join the fourteen states which currently require ignition interlock installation for all DUI offenses, including first time offenses. Roelke further stated “were Florida to join the minority of states on this issue, judges will lose the discretion they currently possess concerning whether to require ignition interlock devices for first time DUI offenders.”

"My concern is having the legislature determine an automatic punishment for first time DUI offenders, instead of letting the courts handle these matters on a case-by-case basis as provided by existing law”, Roelke said. "Each case, and every first DUI offender, has unique aspects which are not well-served by one-size-fits-all punishment."

House Bill 479 was filed by Rep. Dennis Baxley, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee that will be hearing the bill. The Florida Legislature may consider the proposal when it meets in session in March. To become law, it must pass both the Florida House of Representative and the Florida Senate, and be signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

HB 479 creates several new minimum provisions for ignition interlock devices. An ignition interlock device is a small machine attached to the ignition of a vehicle. It prevents the vehicle from starting unless the driver blows into the machine, which then analyzes the breath sample for alcohol. If the breath alcohol level is above a certain limit, the vehicle will not start.

Currently, if a person is convicted of a first DUI in Jacksonville, the court has the option of requiring an ignition interlock, in addition to fines of $500 to $1,000, driver's license suspension for 180 days to a year, vehicle impoundment for up to 10 days, probation and up to six months in jail. The proposed law, however, would require those convicted of a first DUI to have the ignition interlock device installed in their car. The ignition interlock device is not only unwieldy and inconvenient, it also has significant associated costs, including fees to have the device installed and removed, according to Roelke.

If the bill becomes law, it would also require the ignition interlock device to be installed:

  •     For a year, for a second conviction.
  •     For two years, for a second conviction if the blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.15 or higher of the person had a passenger younger than 18.
  •     For two years, for a third conviction.

Roelke further noted "The proposed law could potentially have the unintended effect of reducing the efficiency of the criminal justice system.” "Under current law, the prosecution and defense have greater leeway to negotiate fair and just dispositions depending on the particular facts of each case” he said. "The proposed new law, however, could cause more people charged with DUI to opt for a trial in the hope of avoiding the proposed mandatory penalties which would be incorporated into many, if not most, plea bargains. The resulting increase in the number of trials would further burden our already overloaded courts.”    

William Roelke, of Roelke Law, is a Jacksonville drunk driving defense lawyer who focuses on representing those charged with their first DUI. He is also a criminal defense lawyer who vigorously defends those charged with drug, sex, theft, battery, burglary, domestic violence or other crimes.

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