Minnesota A Model In ND DUI Reform

Minnesota is one of the states being used as a model for possible reform of North Dakota’s DUI law.

Here’s a story for you:

In 1980 on prom night in Fargo, Leah Eisenhardt, 15, and her friends weren’t able to go because they were too young. Instead, they went to Dairy Queen before heading home for a sleepover. On the way home, a tire blew.

They changed the tire and kept watch for oncoming cars, but they weren’t prepared for the speeding driver that would come around the curve.

Hurtling toward the girls, Leah’s friend who was keeping watch flung herself flat against the car, but Leah didn’t have a chance. She was hit.

Leah died at 8:30 p.m.

At 9:50 p.m., her mom, Karen, a teacher, saw the evening news teaser and feared that the killed girl was one of her students. At 10 p.m., she found out otherwise.

What Karen found out was that the driver was an orthopedist that lived in the neighborhood. He had been drinking and was driving to work because he was on call that night. He did go to jail, was bailed out by a friend that night, never took a blood alcohol test, and in the end was sentenced to 200 hours of community service. He ended up never having to serve that community service.

Had the accident happened today, the outcome for the doctor would have been different. Also in 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded and they started crusading against the courts to take drunk driving more seriously.

As a result, a person who kills another because of drunk driving is very likely to serve prison time. But many victims and advocates are saying that North Dakota is still too lax in its law. This is resulting in some possible changes being put in place in 2013.

Before, a drunken driver in North Dakota was more likely to have their 30-day jail sentence suspended and pay $650 in fines. They would also have to serve a year of unsupervised probation, complete a mandatory chemical dependency evaluation, and also pay the administrative costs. Driver’s license suspension was also a possibility, but it could be reinstated after 30 days.

If a person had five convictions in seven years, they would be charged with a felony. This is one fact that has had the state evaluating the laws in other states. Minnesota is one of those states because the fourth DUI in 10 years will land in a felony charge and possible conviction. So far, North Dakota is the only state that allows five offenses before a person is charged with a felony.

North Dakota is also entertaining the possibility of a mandatory ignition interlock device program like Minnesota has. The device requires a person to perform a sober breath test before they can start their vehicle.

What has made change in legislation so hard? It is because North Dakota lacks a great deal of public transportation and that has some lawmakers believing that those convicted of drunk driving will drive even if their licenses are taken away.

Others beg to differ by stating that stiffer penalties will change the societal attitude in North Dakota regarding drunk driving.

Using Minnesota’s system as a model, new laws are being written with the penalties being jail time, longer license revocation, and higher fines. It would also involve the use of ignition interlock devices, which is something that Mothers Against Drunk Driving is pushing for.