Alabama DUI Law: Pending Legislation – Closing the Alabama Driver’s License Suspension Loophole
Three bills affecting Alabama citizens accused of DUI have been filed in the Alabama Legislature for the current legislative session. I will address each of these bills in turn in this three part blog series on pending Alabama legislation. The bill we will address today is House Bill 477, which was sponsored by Representatives Jones and Colston. This bill is designed to address an unintended driver’s license suspension loophole that was created in 2011 when Alabama enacted Alabama Act No. 2011-621, Alabama’s “Super DUI Bill”. We will call the bill we are discussing today the “Loophole Bill” for shorthand. Remember the Super DUI Bill increased the punishment for those convicted of DUI with a blood alcohol level of .15 or greater. The increased punishment under the Super DUI Bill includes a mandatory one year sentence for misdemeanor DUI convictions (including first time offenders) with a blood alcohol level of .15 or greater. The Super DUI Bill also increases period of driver’s license suspension for a first time conviction of DUI from 90 days to at least one year.
Here is where the loophole comes into play. There is another Alabama law that has been on the books for years (Alabama Code § 32-5A-300 – 308) that says if a person is arrested for a DUI on a public roadway and refuses to take a breath test or takes the test and blows .08 or above, that person’s driver’s license will be suspended for 90 days. (I’m assuming here that the person has not had any other “alcohol or drug-related enforcement contacts” in the last five years. If so then the suspension can be longer). This 90 days suspension generally starts 45 days after the date the person is arrested. This suspension is independent, for the most part, from the DUI case itself. We refer to these upfront, driver’s license suspensions as “administrative suspensions” to distinguish them from driver’s license suspension for DUI convictions. The administrative suspension law also states that if a person serves an administrative suspension for blowing over the legal limit, they will not have to do an additional driver’s license suspension if they are convicted of DUI. When the Super DUI Bill was passed it neglected to make any changes to the administrative suspension law. This means that since the Super DUI Bill became the law, most of the high blood alcohol first offenders that the Bill meant to punish with a one year suspensions have only had to serve 90 day administrative suspensions and no additional suspension even if convicted of DUI.
The Loophole Bill aims to close this oversight by making the front-end, administrative driver’s license suspensions mirror the driver license suspension scheme found in the Super DUI Bill. If the Loophole Bill passes, a person accused of DUI who blows .15 or greater could have their driver license suspended for one year automatically, while they wait for their day in court on the DUI case. I suspect that if this bill becomes the law, we will see many more people who have been arrested for DUI refusing to blow into the breath test machine.
Be sure to stay tuned for the final two installments concerning currently pending Alabama DUI legislation. These two installments will deal with bills that seek to amend Alabama’s DUI statute. I’m saving the bill that would likely have the biggest change on Alabama DUI law for last.