Johnston, Amore bills would tighten DUI laws
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Raymond H. Johnston Jr. (D-Dist.61, Pawtucket) and Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) that will strengthen the State’s DUI law is scheduled to be heard before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
The Johnston legislation (2016-H 7461) would increase penalties for those who are convicted of killing or injuring individuals while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A second piece of legislation (2016-H 7457), sponsored by Representative Amore would extend the so-called “look back” period on repeat alcohol-related offenses from five years to 10 years.
H7461 - Increased penalties for DUI resulting in death or serious injury
Under the legislation, a conviction under DUI death resulting would increase from a maximum imprisonment of 15 years to a maximum imprisonment of 30 years, a maximum fine of $20,000, and license revocation for up to 10 years.
A conviction of DUI resulting in serious bodily injury would increase from a maximum penalty of 10 years to a maximum imprisonment of 20 years, a fine up to $10,000, and license revocation for up to five years.
The legislation would also increase the imprisonment sanctions for driving to endanger resulting in death from up to 10 years to up to 20 years, and those in violation of driving as to endanger serious bodily injury would face increased penalties from up to five years to up to 10 years.
“As soon as someone drinks then gets behind the wheel of a car, they have already demonstrated a reckless disregard for the law — and for life,” said Representative Raymond Johnston. “When that choice leads to somebody’s death, it’s no different than firing a gun into a crowd of people. Increasing the penalties for this heinous crime so it more accurately reflects the horror of the act is the right thing to do.”
Last year, the legislation passed the Senate and enjoyed the support of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“There is no excuse for anyone to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle impaired. It is a conscious choice, and the penalties for doing so and taking the life of another individual should be harsher,” added Attorney General Kilmartin. “Strict penalties, increased enforcement, and a commitment to education and outreach have led to a decline in the number of deaths as a result of people driving drunk on our roadways. But, even one death is too many for the families of those who lost their lives at the hands of a drunk driver.”
H7457 - Extending the “look back” period to 10 years
The legislation would increase the “look back” period on third and subsequent alcohol-related offenses to ten years. Currently it is only five years.
“Serial drunk drivers are currently gaming the legal system due to our lax “look-back” laws and this situation needs to be rectified immediately so that those who continuously drink and drive are held fully responsible for their dangerous, selfish and habitual behavior," said Representative Amore.
According to the Century Council’s Hardcore Drunk Driving Sourcebook, a majority of jurisdictions have a “look back” period of 10 years. In fact, Rhode Island is the only New England state with a “look back” period of less than 10 years.
“The current state of our law allows repeat offenders to be treated as first offenders in both the District Court and the Traffic Tribunal. I believe that this is a dangerous loophole. It not only threatens the lives of citizens on Rhode Island roads every day, but also allows repeat drunk drivers to receive lessened sanctions, thereby not addressing other issues that they may face,” said Attorney General Kilmartin.
The 10 year “look back” period is supported by the National Highway Safety Administration, the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the National Hardcore Drunk Driver Project.
Senator Susan V. Susan Sosnowski (D, District 37 – New Shoreham, South Kingstown) is the sponsor of companion bills in the Senate. “The sad truth is that many offenders, especially those who have been caught driving under the influence, don’t learn until they cause permanent injury to someone, or even death. It’s time Rhode Island created tough penalties that makes sense. My hope is that someone facing 30 years of prison instead of 15 might think a little harder about what they’re doing when they get behind the wheel. One driving fatality is one too many,” she added.
For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903