Just blow: Ignition-interlock device

We read this week that Arizona’s DUI sentence for first-time offenders will be eased slightly in 2012. Does anyone else find that surprising?

As the Arizona Republic story reports:

“Starting Jan. 1, Arizona drivers convicted of a first-time DUI offense will get a slightly gentler sentence.

“A new state law will require first-time offenders to have an ignition-interlock device on their vehicle for six months, instead of the current requirement of a year.”

You may read the whole story here.

As the story goes on to say, Arizona is one of “the toughest states in the nation when it comes to DUI laws.” In addition, this sentence-reduction comes not from the defense lawyers, but from a lawmaker, Sen. Linda Gray (R-Glendale), “who has led the effort for 13 years to strengthen the state’s DUI laws.”

You read that and you ask, What’s up? Why the sudden change in a state that likes its sentences stiff? Unfortunately, the reporter may not have been as curious as we are. The odd bedfellows remain a mystery.

Last April, I wrote about the ignition-interlock law. This may suggest some of the movements behind the scenes that led a conservative lawmaker to decide to reduce a penalty on DUI offenders.

Does anyone else have any insight into the turnaround? And is this a one-time anomaly, or may there be space for variation elsewhere in the state’s sentencing regime?

Just as sports fans eagerly await baseball’s opening day—the crack of the bat, the crunch of the popcorn—lawyers gaze spellbound toward this Wednesday. For that is when an annual migration culminates, when our rafters and shelves are filled with the newborn, the fledgling.

On Wednesday, hundreds of new laws take effect. 357, to be exact.

A profession beams with pride as it leans over the bassinet, also known as the Arizona Revised Statutes. The nascent laws, recently no more than a few bills among many, squirm and squeeze their little fists, yearning to be fully formed.

Their creators apparently decided that the new laws’ older siblings were insufficient to the many tasks at hand. And so the nursery is full.

The laws about to become effective include a wide variety of topics. As the story says:

“The laws cover a broad spectrum of topics, from ensuring homeowners-association meetings are open to residents and giving married couples preference in adoptions to restricting charitable donations to groups that support abortion and requiring schools to develop bullying policies.

“Dozens of the bills target public-safety issues, toughening penalties for sex crimes against children, raising fees for writing a bad check, paying inmates more for hard labor and creating new crimes surrounding human smuggling.”

Just blow: Ignition-interlock device

Among the many new laws is one in regard to DUI charges and the right to a jury trial. I wrote about that before. (This one, though, has a delayed effective date until Jan. 1, 2012.)

As this news story says, there was an effort to head this law off at the pass, but it failed to garner enough signatures. We will watch this topic over the coming year as the inevitable court challenge is filed.

In the meantime, welcome to the newest toddling laws. Cigars, anyone?

Victor Riches, Arizona House Chief of Staff

Two stories percolating this week demonstrate solidarity in the face of adversity. Oddly enough, both come out of the Arizona Legislature.

I say “oddly” because recent actions from lawmakers demonstrate an almost unwavering support for a variety of themes: law and order, personal responsibility, a dislike for excuses. But those things fall away when it’s one of your own whose ox is being gored.

The first story is about the chief aide to the House Speaker. He was stopped for extreme DUI, and cocaine was even found in the car he was driving. But both Speaker Andy Tobin and former Speaker Kirk Adams stand by Victor Riches. They say they appreciate his “candor” about the 2010 incident.

Here is another story about the arrest. It quotes a criminal defense attorney who muses on the different type of treatment that differently situated defendants receive.

House Speaker Andy Tobin and former Speaker Kirk Adams

That follows on the heels of the Scott Bundgaard domestic-violence case. Laurie Roberts in the Republic writes about that again today.

As Roberts described it, the matter is “perhaps the longest misdemeanor investigation ever.” But how much more abbreviated it might have been if lawmakers decided not to throw their unwavering support behind the state senator.

Optimistic readers may hope this all signals a new openness among leaders to arguments that the facts underlying criminal charges are often complicated, and that no one should be demonized until they get their day in court.

A hopeful lot, they.

State Senator Scott Bundgaard

Happy Friday, or Change of Venue Friday, as I call it around here. That’s when we take a more relaxed look at news or events—a lawyers’ blog casual day, you might call it.

It was last Sunday evening, I think, when I heard the radio news story. An airline pilot had arrived at the airport smelling of alcohol. Authorities were called, and by the time they reached him, he was already on the plane.

A snack with your drink?

Another story about the AirTran pilot continued:

“[Airport police] gave him a preliminary breathalyzer test and registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.05, slightly above the legal limit for pilots which is 0.04. The legal limit for drivers in Minnesota is 0.08.”

So here is what surprised me (can you see it coming?). The FAA-approved legal limit for pilots who carry us all hither and yon is … NOT zero! Well, that falls in the category of things that make you go Hmmm.

Besides my surprise, my second thought was perhaps a bit uncharitable to the airline, but I mused, Well, it IS AirTran. I mean, do we really expect unimpaired flying for our discount seat?

It also occurred to me that perhaps the pilot was celebrating his airline’s May 2 merger with Southwest Airlines. Maybe he just imbibed a mini-liquor bottle as a toast. Of course, that can’t the kind of PR that Southwest was looking forward to when they got into the AirTran bed.

One result of the news story was that I meandered through the web for related stories. Holy cow, it’s more than a little distressing to see how many results you get when you search for “drunk pilot” on YouTube.

But it’s Change of Venue Friday, so here is a vintage video you may enjoy: the comedian Foster Brooks appearing as a tipsy airline pilot on the Dean Martin Show.

Have a great—and grounded—weekend.


Q: How do you get a mess of criminal-defense attorneys to call the Governor’s Office to advocate for stiffer sentences?

A: Advance a bill to her desk that pairs a reduction in penalties for DUI with a provision that largely eliminates the ability of a defendant to get a jury trial in DUI cases.

As the AP’s Paul Davenport reports here, it is unclear why the no-jury provision was added to the bill that was designed to reduce the amount of time a convicted person must use an ignition-interlock device.

Given the history of the original bill, though—written solely as a means to head off an even more defendant-friendly bill that would have reduced the interlock time even more drastically—it may just be a way to make defense lawyers pay a foot for the inch they had achieved.

But the ones I’ve spoken with have said the loss of jury trial is too great a price to pay for what they say was a reasonable interlock bill.

Because they did not just fall off the turnip truck, though, they tell me that they understand the chilly reception they would receive if a mass of them called the Governor’s Office urging a veto because their clients’ jury-trial right is sacrosanct.

Instead, they are urging her to veto because criminal sentences should remain stiff in Arizona.

Is your head spinning yet?