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?

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?