Court’s drunk-driving prevention tool stalled

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A plan to make repeat drunk drivers wear ankle bracelets is off to a slow start, and lawmakers are being asked to tackle other solutions to help curb drunk driving.

Always Investigating digs deeper into what’s working and what’s not.

We told you about the expanded ankle-bracelet system being put into place last November.

But there are mounting doubts about how effective that court-ordered blood alcohol monitor will be.

The state Judiciary has been working for a couple of years now to let judges mandate ankle monitors for repeat drunk drivers, a program still just at the pre-rollout stage.

It’s different than the ignition interlock, court-ordered devices that far have stopped more than 100,000 people with alcohol on their breath from driving drunk in Hawaii.

“Even with the ankle bracelet on you can still drive drunk,” said Arkie Koehl of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“We do find it to be a nice deterrent to not getting an interlock.

Get that interlock on your car right away instead.

You drive for the entire period of your license revocation, you drive legally, as long as you drive sober.

It’s a good reason — if there’s an alternative like the ankle bracelet — to get that device installed on day one.”

Currently people going through DWI court can voluntarily wear ankle devices, made by a company called SCRAM.

In the new court-ordered program yet to launch a judge would decide, not the person charged with driving drunk.

Always Investigating asked if it is anticipated the ankle-bracelet court-orders would likely face some kind of challenge by defense attorneys.

“I would think so,” Koehl said. “The fact is none has ever been ordered yet so there’s no case to challenge. ”

No case because the Judiciary is still working on rules and guidelines.

SCRAM is already contracted to provide the devices, but a recent report from the Judiciary estimated the quantity to be only a couple dozen once assigned.

The state has hired a monitor for Oahu but has yet to hire for the neighbor islands.

The program was supposed to be implemented by the end of the month but Always Investigating found out the state Judiciary is still finalizing the rules and guidelines.

Always Investigating asked a defense attorney what he would say if his client were to get a court order to wear the bracelet.

“Of course I’m going to argue against it,” said DUI defense attorney David Fanelli. “Look, this would be a terrible inconvenience for him in whatever fashion, perhaps it’s a security clearance issue, stating that this current offense has not been adjudicated, we maintain his innocence. If they violate that, any alcohol is detected every 30 minutes, they could very likely be sitting back in jail until their trial date, and often these things go on and on.”

Before even ending up in front of a judge, though, big changes could be coming in how police get proof of intoxication on the road, to combat an issue from a few years back when asking for breath was deemed a warrantless search.

“It has largely been overcome now in 3 of the 4 counties police are allowed to call a judge at 3 in the morning and say I need a warrant to draw blood from this guy and they’ll get the warrant,” Koehl said. “Oahu doesn’t have that yet but there’s a bill this year to permit that.”

A proposed bill HB 507/SB 179 would give law enforcement electronic warrants for tests, such playing a recording of a judge approving the search.

“One would imagine this target of the warrant is not going to believe that’s a warrant, and this could cause larger problems and conflict,” Fanelli said.

Always Investigating asked, does the suspect have a right, when he or she questions that, to still say, “No don’t take my breath, don’t take my blood?” 

“I would submit that he does,” Fanelli said. “It would be very difficult for many people in this country, in this state, to take their word if they’re not following this story, aren’t aware of this bill, don’t know this law. I submit that this statute as currently written, if it was to pass, probably would ultimately get overturned at some point.”

We’ll watch how those warrant measures evolve this legislative session.

As for the ankle monitors, no word yet on the cost spent so far or budgeted for it, or when the courts are likely to be ready to issue the first order to wear one.

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