A bill requiring first-time drunk-driving offenders in Ohio to have sobriety-testing devices installed on their cars is being opposed by judges who say it handcuffs them from using their discretion.
The Ohio Judicial Conference said judges are in the best position to determine penalties for first-time offenders. The devices are mandatory for repeat offenders.
“Judicial discretion is fundamental to our democratic system of government,” Mark Schweikert, judicial conference executive director, said in a letter to the bill sponsors. “Mandatory sentences can have unintended practical consequences that are avoided when judicial discretion is preserved.”
Most first-time drunken drivers don’t repeat the offense, Schweikert said, and are able to be rehabilitated without punishments like the ignition devices.
Under current rules, a driver who refuses a blood-alcohol test automatically loses his license for a year. Someone who agrees to the test and is convicted generally receives a six-month suspension.
The change would require ignition lock devices for convicted drivers who regain driving privileges during a suspension. The proposals are being offered by state Reps. Terry Johnson, a Scioto County Republican, and Gary Scherer, a Circleville Republican.
The lawmakers say the proposal creates a simpler system for first-time offenders, only some of whom are currently required to use the devices.
For repeat drunken drivers the bill would require the devices to be installed sooner after a conviction.
The Ohio State Bar Association also opposes the legislation, saying it will further clog courts as offenders, allowed to drive with the device, will have less incentive to strike plea deals that normally would get them back on the road faster.
Twenty-four states require the device for first-time offenders and several more mandate them for first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 or greater, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which supports the bill. Ohio auto clubs and the state medical association also support the requirement.
Making the devices mandatory gives drunken drivers with suspended licenses “a safe and legal alternative compared to the current approach of license suspension and hoping these offenders will not drive,” Doug Scoles, MADD state executive director, testified in September before the Ohio House Judiciary Committee.
The devices, which require drivers to blow into a sensor, prevent vehicles from starting if a certain amount of alcohol is detected. The systems cost about $75 a month, usually paid by the offender.
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