In an attempt to further crack down on drunk driving penalties, state Senator Tom A. Wright, a Republican from Port Orange, has introduced Senate Bill 232, formally known as “An act relating to driving under the influence.”
The bill aims to establish guidelines for trial court judges accepting specified plea deals as well as create consequences for individuals driving under the influence.
According to section one of the bill, trial court judges may not accept a plea of guilty or no contest to a reduced charge unless, “The trial court judge determines there is a good faith basis to believe that a reduction in such a charge is warranted” or “the defendant successfully completes a driving under the influence diversion program.”
Government consultant Sammie Brown says that although the bill has good intentions, it does not address the root cause of impaired drivers.
“One notable aspect is the creation of DUI diversion programs. As a supporter I acknowledge successful completion of such programs can contribute to rehabilitation and repeated DUI offenses,” Brown said. “However, stricter fines and penalties as outlined in the bill could potentially exacerbate challenges for individuals without addressing the core issues.”
SB 232 also focuses on repercussions for individuals who refuse to take a chemical or physical test of their breath or urine to measure their alcohol intake percentage. Under this bill, individuals must be informed by law enforcement officers that upon first refusal to take a test they will have their license suspended for 12 months, and after the second refusal they face misdemeanor charges in the second degree.
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice met and discussed SB 232. During the meeting Senator Wright thoroughly explained the bill and its purpose.
Committee members had a chance to ask questions, and members of the audience also voiced their opinions.
Legislative chair for the Florida criminal defense lawyers, Aaron Weight, spoke against the bill, saying although it does have some good parts, such as the implementation of diversion programs, it fails to address the issue of outdated breathalyzer machines.
“We cannot support the bill at this time due to the new misdemeanor for first breath test refusal,” said Weight. “Many of the intoxilyzer 8,000 machines in Florida are 18 years old. There are innocent reasons people refuse the breath test machine.”
To conclude the bill review, Wright made a statement saying, “It is a privilege, not a right to drive in the state of Florida.”
The bill passed in the Criminal Justice committee with a vote of 7-0.