Alabama DUI Legislation 2014

Posted on by DUI Attorney

We are in the midst of the 2014 Alabama Legislature’s regular session.  Alabama’s DUI Law could be substantially changed if anyone of several bills that have been introduced are enacted into law.  Among the bills filed is Senate Bill 117 which would make sweeping changes to Alabama’s DUI law.  That bill, which is sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr along with several other senators, would change Alabama’s DUI statute in a number of ways. I want to address one of those DUI related changes in this post, and I plan to address others in later posts.

The bill seeks to change the definition of the term “under the influence.”  While the text of Alabama’s current DUI statute doesn’t expressly define “under the influence,” the Alabama Supreme Court set forth the current definition of that term in a case I handled back in the 1980’s – Ex parte Buckner, 549 So.2d 451 (Ala. 1989).  In the Buckner case, I was successful in getting the Supreme Court to overrule prior law that defined “under the influence” so broadly as to make it seemingly illegal for a person to have just a tiny amount of alcohol and drive.  The definition settled on in Buckner  was than under the influence of alcohol means being under the influence to the extent that the alcohol renders  one “incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.”  The definition in SB 117 is:  “Not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of…” alcohol or some substance or combination there of.  The bill would further define “under the influence” to mean more than five nanograms of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana”) per milliliter of blood or “an quantifiable amount” of a specific list of other substances.  However, the bill makes it an affirmative offense if the person has a prescription for a substance or is “otherwise authorized by law to use the substance.”  Changing the definition of “under the influence” as this bill would do, would be not a helpful or clarifying change.  Instead it is likely to create further confusion because the courts will have to interpret what “not having normal use of mental or physical faculties” means.

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