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Legislator Seeks to Tighten Utah DUI Laws

By February 13, 2014Criminal Defense

Utah Legislator Lee Perry has introduced a bill in Utah that would make it illegal to operate a vehicle while impaired to the slightest degree by any substance.

Currently, the law prohibits DUI in three ways:

It is illegal to operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle if the person

  1. Has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .08 grams or greater at the time of operation or actual physical control;
  2. Has sufficient alcohol in the person’s body that a subsequent chemical test shows that the person has a BAC of .08 grams or greater at the time of the test; OR
  3. Is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle.

The proposed law, H.B. 303, would only change the third way you can be convicted of DUI. Rather than basing the decision on your ability to safely operate a vehicle it would be based on whether you were slightly impaired. The new text would prohibit operating or being in actual physical control of a vehicle if the person: “is impaired to the slightest degree by alcohol, any drug, any substance, or any combination thereof.”

This is alarming for a couple reasons. First, this law is so vague and overreaching that it opens the door to unchecked police abuse. Second, it instantly turns many innocent law abiding people into criminals without them even knowing.

The law is so vague and overreaching that it opens the door to unchecked abuse of the police power.

I know that some people believe that police are infallible and would not arrest a person unless they are guilty of a crime and they would never abuse their power. However, we know well enough here in Utah that is not the case:

Trooper Steed is fired for making false DUI arrests.

West Valley Police Officer calls out other officers for illegal practices

Trooper advised of right to remain silent after he lies on the witness stand.

An officer who wants to throw their weight around during a traffic stop could easily start building a DUI case against you and quickly arrest you. They could use your driving pattern, speech, motor skills, etc. to support that conclusion. Driving cues that show you might be impaired include failure to signal, turning with wide radius, following too closely, improper lane change (example: signaling for less that 2 seconds before beginning the lane change), improper turn (example: turning into a lane other than the closes one), varying speed, and slow speed. These are common things that many drivers do when they are in a hurry, distracted, or looking for an address. Yet they support a determination that you are impaired.

Additionally, if your driving pattern is combined with any evidence that you have taken medication, the officer could arrest you for DUI. Evidence of using medication could be an admission that you had taken some cold medication or a medication package in sight. If you have an asthma inhaler in your cup holder or you keep nasal spray handy during allergy season the officer could use that evidence to support a DUI arrest and criminal charge. Then you could be facing all kinds of DUI consequences including a driver license suspension, jail, fines, and DUI Attorney fees.

The proposed Utah DUI Law instantly turns many innocent law-abiding people into criminals without them even knowing.

DUI is one of the few laws a person can be breaking without even knowing it. In some instances it is easy to know that someone is so intoxicated that they are either over the legal limit or incapable of safely operating a vehicle. However, in other situations a person might be perfectly safe to operate a vehicle while their BAC is .09 because they have a tolerance to alcohol. In the best case scenario that person may do a mental check-in before they drive and determine that they don’t even feel buzzed. That person could be breaking the DUI law without even knowing it.

This proposed law puts many innocent, otherwise law-abiding citizens in the same situation. The new law criminalizes driving while you are impaired to the slightest degree by any substance. Almost every medication on the shelf in in the pharmacy has some kind of side effect that could impair driving. Consider some of the following common medications:

Albuterol – used to treat asthma; may cause dizziness

Fluticosane – the active ingredient in Flonase; used to treat allergies/congestion; may cause blurred vision, feeling like you might pass out, seeing halos around lights

Prednisone – used to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis; may cause problems with vision, seizure, confusion

Dayquil – Used to treat cold symptoms; may cause dizziness, confusion, hallucinations

Amoxicillin – Antibiotic used to treat common bacterial infections; May cause confusion and unusual thoughts or behavior

This is just a list of five, but there are thousands of medications that could have side effects that would impair driving. If this proposed law passes and you are taking medication you could be driving around committing DUI without even knowing it. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. Here is a link to a story about a Utah Trooper who arrested a man for DUI. The man, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, was riding a motorized scooter on the sidewalk. He had given up his driver license because he has seizures. He answered the trooper’s questions honestly by admitting that he takes medication for his disabilities. After he failed the field sobriety tests, due to his disabilities, the trooper arrested him for DUI. It was later discovered that he had forgotten to take his medication that night.



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