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Legal Ease: Changes to DUI law

This year, 2010, brings a startling change to people arrested for DUI in San Diego County. Gone are the days where an arrest merely placed you in a holding cell for six to eight hours and released thereafter without more. No more, say the policy makers of San Diego. San Diego County, one of the first counties in California to follow this drastic change, is implementing a new policy, more stringent, more complicated, and it affects all DUI offenders, even if it is their first-time!

As of January 1, 2010, if you find yourself arrested for DUI here in San Diego, you will be taken to the nearest incarceration facility, fingerprinted, stripped, and now held until bail is posted. For now, San Diego County has rid itself of the “drunk-tank.” Instead, San Diego DUI arrestees, who remember are constitutionally innocent until proven guilty, are NOW required to post bail before they can be released, taking up a county bed somewhere. No more sobering up period in a room full of other minor offenders. No more minor incarceration, period.

Not surprisingly, this policy shift is right in line with many views being touted everywhere from policy makers across this state. For instance, starting July 1, 2010, the law will require all second and third time DUI offenders to install an inter-lock device just to receive a restricted license from DMV. Another example came from the California legislature recently, calling this year, 2010, the “Year of the Checkpoint,” promising to increase funding by 3 million dollars to fund state and local law enforcement agencies, increasing the number of DUI checkpoints.

With over 215,000 DUI arrests in California alone last year, and with our jail system being already overcrowded, a question begs itself: where are these arrestees going to be held if they cannot post bail - especially in this economic recession? This problem reminds me of the current situation caused by similar policies implemented in Riverside County beginning in 2007. Riverside County implemented a similar approach, requiring bail on nearly all minor offenses, and the county jails quickly became overcrowded.

Because the federal government requires incarceration facilities to maintain certain crowd control measures and hospitality minimums, the jails started to “fed-kick” people from jail to comply with these standards. That is, people were released from jail to make room for the new arrestees. That meant, in essence, even felony prisoners serving a 90 day sentence might be “fed-kicked” early just to make room for a new DUI arrestee, a person yet to be proven guilty. This policy only frustrated law enforcements efforts.

Obviously, such policy shifts come with consequences not only to the DUI arrestees, but also to the tax-payers of this county. San Diegans should not be subjected to a scenario similar to what is happening in Riverside County. Counties have limited resources, and with laws tightening everywhere against driving while intoxicated, shouldn’t the jail be a place left for people needing to be removed from society for substantial periods of time? Why target a DUI arrestee when a convicted felon could be released because some government standard hasn’t been met? I have seen this happen numerous times in Riverside County, I am not kidding. Let us not bring that problem here to San Diego.