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New Kansas law targets repeat drunken drivers

Published on -6/13/2012, 1:22 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Suspected drunken drivers who refuse to take blood and breath tests will face mandatory jail time under a state law that takes effect July 1.

First-time offenders are exempted from the law, which is designed to react to motorists who refuse the tests, often leaving prosecutors with little evidence for convictions, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/KTqMFR).

"These people pose a threat," said Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe, who pushed for the law. "We need to hold them accountable."

Currently in Kansas, refusing the tests can cause drivers to have their licenses suspended. That doesn't deter many chronic offenders who drive with or without a license, Howe said.

The new law carries the same penalties as a DUI conviction -- up to a year in jail for those with multiple convictions -- and takes away the incentive to refuse the tests, Howe said.

But critics say it will cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased court and jail costs and creates the potential for prolonged court challenges.

"There's going to be a nonstop parade of litigation while this law is in effect," said criminal defense lawyer Jay Norton.

The law will make criminals of people who only are suspected of driving under the influence, he said, and it takes away their rights against self-incrimination, to remain silent or to be free from warrantless searches.

"It doesn't do anything to curb drunk driving or alcohol-related crashes," Norton said. "It only makes it easier to convict people they suspect."

The constitutional questions have been answered in other states with similar laws, said Bill Lemons, traffic safety resource prosecutor for the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.

Since Minnesota implemented a refusal law in 1988 and expanded it to include first-time offenders in 1993, the state has seen a dramatic reduction in test refusals after DUI stops, he said.

Frank Harris, state legislative affairs manager for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, called the new Kansas law a "step in the right direction."

"Refusal is a problem across the country," he said. "It allows offenders to elude justice."

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Information from: The Topeka Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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