While the Legislature is in Session
“No Man’s Life, Liberty, or Property is safe while the Legislature is in Session.” (Tucker/Twain)
Last week was particularly busy for the North Carolina General Assembly passing close to one hundred Bills in two days in order to meet the “crossover deadline” – a time period in which a Bill must be passed by one chamber (House or Senate) in order to remain viable for consideration by the other. Impaired driving (DWI) legislation normally receives attention and this year was no exception. The following is a practical discussion of proposed Legislation. Readers desiring more information should visit the General Assembly website at www.ncleg.net or “stay tuned” for future posts. Let’s look at a few proposed Bills (as of 04/23/15):
I. House Bill 273/Senate Bill 570: Under current law, judges with the consent of the prosecutor have the option to provide “first-offender treatment” to individuals charged with most non-violent misdemeanor offenses and a fair number of lower grade, non-violent felony offenses. Under a “Conditional Discharge” an individual would comply with the terms and conditions imposed by the Court while on probation and upon successful completion of the probation would have the charge(s) dismissed. Conversely if an individual is not successful then he or she would become convicted and remain on probation as may be modified by the Court in light of the violation. House Bill 273 would remove the offense of Driving While Impaired (DWI) as an offense that could be considered for a Conditional Discharge.
As a practical matter, prosecutors in this District decline to offer Conditional Discharge dispositions for Impaired Driving offenses. In this regard the proposed Legislation would simply mirror current practice.
Under current law an individual convicted of a first offense (most non-violent misdemeanor offenses and several non-violent low grade felony offenses) who afterwards demonstrate a minimum of fifteen years of “clean living” (no subsequent convictions after their successful probation) would be eligible to file a Petition to have the conviction erased or expunged from their record. Both House Bill 273 and Senate Bill 570 seek to specifically exclude Impaired Driving as an eligible offense for an Expungement under these circumstances.
II. House Bill 31/Senate Bill 308 seek to mandate a 0.00 alcohol concentration restriction on all driving privileges reinstated as a result of an impaired driving conviction. Under current law, an individual with a first offense Impaired Driving conviction cannot lawfully drive a vehicle with an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater for a period of three years after being reinstated by the Division of Motor Vehicles. Persons with two or more convictions within a seven year period currently face a 0.00 alcohol concentration restriction. The proposed Legislation would equate first and second offenders by requiring all Impaired Driving restorations to impose a 0.00 alcohol concentration restriction.
III. House Bill 32/Senate Bill 309 seek to amend North Carolina’s Habitual Impaired Driving law. Under current law, a Habitual impaired driver is one who has had three prior convictions of impaired driving within ten years of the date of the offense of a pending fourth. Habitual Impaired Driving is a felony offense and is punished by an active prison sentence of at least twelve months. The proposed Legislation would reduce from three (3) to two (2) the number of prior convictions within ten years in order for an individual to be considered as a Habitual Impaired Driver.
From a practical perspective, new Legislation involving Impaired Driving offenses generally seeks to achieve the goals of either increasing the number of persons convicted of Impaired Driving and/or increasing the punishment of persons convicted of Impaired Driving. The Legislature is still in session and undoubtedly Legislation will be passed altering current Impaired Driving laws. We will address such changes in future posts.