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Reitan: Driving under the influence, don't risk it

The recent arrest of a Mapleton man highlighted the fact he was being charged with a Felony Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offense. While the arrest captured the attention of the media, the Felony charge is not that unusual. Prior to the 2013 North Dakota Legislative Session, a person arrested for an alcohol related offense would be charged with a Felony if the person had four alcohol related convictions anytime in the previous seven years. What is significant is that changes made in 2013 now make the alcohol related offense a class C Felony if there has been three previous alcohol related convictions at any time in the person’s lifetime.

The statute relating to DUI changed at many levels. Modifications were made to the classification of the penalties and the lengthening of the look back period for previous convictions. Before July 1, 2013 a person was guilty of a Class B Misdemeanor for the first or second offense DUI committed within a five-year period. A third offense in five years or a fourth offense in seven years were a Class A misdemeanor. A fifth or subsequent offense in seven years would have been considered a Felony offense. After July 1 offenses occurring within the past seven years are considered for the purpose of determining penalty for a first, second and third offense. Now, a fourth or subsequent offense regardless of the length of time since the previous offense is a C Felony.

The penalties, to include jail time and fine, also changed after July 1. The fine for a first offense DUI increased from $250 to $500. A blood alcohol test result of .16 blood alcohol concentrate (BAC) now creates an enhancement of the penalty to bring the fine to $750 and at least two days in jail. A second offense DUI conviction changed from a $500 fine to a fine of $1,500 and at least twelve months participation in the twenty-four seven sobriety program. A third offense DUI conviction had carried a fine of $1,000 and sixty days in jail. The person now is subject to a fine of at least $2,000; one hundred twenty days in jail; at least one years’ supervised probation and participation in the twenty four seven sobriety program during the period of probation. For a fourth or subsequent conviction the jail time increased from one hundred eighty days to one year and one day; the fine went up from at least $1,000 to at least $2,000; at least two years of supervised probation and participation in the twenty four seven sobriety program during the period of probation. A judge may suspend limited portions of the sentencing upon the defendant’s placement in an alcohol treatment program.

The twenty-four seven sobriety program requires a person to submit to an alcohol breath test twice per day, typically 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The defendant must report to a test location established by the County Sheriff and must pay one dollar for each test. The defendant may request remote electronic monitoring, urine testing or drug patch testing instead of breath testing. If granted the alternate method of testing the person is required to pay the additional costs of the alternate testing. The Court cannot waive the defendant’s payment of the fees. If the test results indicate the person has been consuming alcohol the person may be immediately arrested and placed in jail. Failure to appear for testing may result in an arrest warrant being issued for the defendant.

A new section was added to the statute making it an offense for a driver to refuse to submit to a chemical test or tests for the purpose of determining the presence of alcohol or drugs. The refusal carries the same penalty as a DUI offense. If a driver does refuse to submit to a test an officer may request a search warrant be issued by the Court and compel a test to be conducted.

The penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol and/ or drugs are significant. You may spend time in jail, pay thousands in fines and fees and be inconvenienced with twice a day testing. The consequences of drunk driving can be much more severe. Drug and alcohol related crashes remain one of the leading causes of personal injury and fatality crashes in North Dakota. The time to think is before you drink. Know your limit or have a designated driver. Don’t risk it.

Mike Reitan is the West Fargo assistant police chief