Louisiana Judge Says DWI Laws Need to Change

November 19, 2013

For impaired drivers, alcohol is increasingly not the substance of choice that leads to trouble on Louisiana roads, a Lafayette judge said.

City Court Judge Douglas Saloom told the DWI-Vehicular Homicide Task Force that state law needs to catch up with evolving reasons for impairment, whether it is marijuana or Xanax instead of one beer too many.

He says it makes little sense to send someone to a substance abuse program for alcohol when the problem is drugs, The Advocate reported.

What we thought would be nice is to require an evaluation component. It’s no expense to the court. What they charge the offender for the program is the cost of doing business,” Saloom said.

The DWI-Vehicular Homicide Task Force is tackling a number of issues that could end up next year in the Legislature.

Task force members – a mix of legislators and law enforcement experts – thumbed through current laws addressing operating a vehicle while intoxicated. The handout included suggested changes.

Another problem Saloom highlighted in his presentation this past week is a gap that occurs when someone is released early from prison for good behavior after serving time for a DWI offense.

Technically, he said, the offender still is a state prisoner even though he is on the street.

A judge cannot send the offender back to jail for violating probation terms because probation only begins once the sentence ends, Saloom said.

“There’s a gap,” he told the task force.

Saloom recommended adding language to state law explicitly making release and probation start simultaneously.

Other issues raised at the task force meeting included:

– Dealing with motorists who tally numerous traffic violations involving drug use.

– Making the fingerprinting of DWI suspects mandatory.

State Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Abbeville, asked how the changes should be made, questioning whether they should piled into a single bill or split into multiple bills when the legislative session starts in March.

Saloom said all the changes could be filed into one bill.

He warned against making the legislation too complicated, saying legislators could just decide to study the issues.

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