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What Happens if You Get a DUI in Montana?

Montana has long been considered to be far too lenient when compared to other states with regards to their DUI laws.

The state has the second highest DUI fatality rate in the United States and over 3,600 DUI arrests annually. 2.4 % of adults are reported as consuming too much alcohol before driving.

missoula drunk driving arrest

Several government organizations, including the Department of Justice, as well as various groups and the general public have been calling for reform of the DUI laws in order to curb driving under the influence.

A bill was recently put before the senate in order to bring about change and to simplify what is currently very confusing and complicated legislature.

Streamlining the current laws involves multiple amendments, repeals as well as working some repeals in to other, more relevant sections of the law. This restructuring will make it much easier for traffic law enforcement officers and lawyers to better understand DUI legislation, the penalties and consequences of being charged with a DUI offence.

There are 5 major changes to current laws that the bill proposes:

  1. Currently the law applies a 10 year window where previous convictions can influence sentencing for second DUI’s. The bill proposes to eliminate this window and allow for multiple and not just the first two offenses to impact sentencing.
  2. The current law allows a law enforcement officer to draw blood to test for BAC (blood alcohol content) only when a second DUI offense has been committed. The bill requests that officers be allowed to draw blood after the first offense.
  3. Alcohol monitoring programs, treatment and the interlocking device to prevent offenders from driving while under the influence are currently not enforced and largely left to the judges discretion to form part of sentencing. The bill calls for these programs to be enforced and become mandatory for second and repeat offenses.
  4. Prior convictions do not always count towards having a driving license suspended under the current laws. The new legislation will call for all state convictions to count towards having a license suspended.
  5. Increased jail time for 5th time DUI offenders in the form of up to 10 years in custody where the first 3 years cannot be suspended. 6th time offenders can expect to receive a sentence of between 5 and 25 years jail time where the first 5 years cannot be suspended.

It is however not as if changes to current legislation have not been proposed before but simply seem to fade away through the process of having a new bill passed. This is largely due to the fact that there seems to be a large faction that does not want reform to current DUI laws.

There is also the fiscal factor that needs to be taken into account. The new bill will present greater costs for the state to enforce the laws and in jail time for repeat offenders. While the fiscal impact has not been fully determined, this may play a large role in whether the bill receives senate approval.

Currently, the penalties for first time DUI offenders are as follows:

a man in jail

  •  A minimum of 24 hours jail time with a maximum sentence of 6 months.
  • A fine of between $600 and $1000.
  • License suspension of up to 6 months.
  • The judge may order a drug and alcohol evaluation, treatment program and or education as well as random drug and alcohol screening or an ankle bracelet that monitors alcohol consumption.

Penalties for a second DUI include:

  • A minimum of 5 days in jail with a maximum sentence of 1 year.
  • A fine between $1,200 and $2,000.
  • License suspension of up to 1 year.
  • The judge may order a drug and alcohol evaluation, treatment program and or education as well as random drug and alcohol screening or an ankle bracelet that monitors alcohol consumption.

Penalties for a 3rd DUI:

a gavel on a desk

  • A minimum of 30 days jail time with a maximum sentence of 1 year.
  • A fine of between $2,500 and $5,000.
  • A license suspension of up to 1 year.
  • The judge may order a drug and alcohol evaluation, treatment program and or education as well as random drug and alcohol screening or an ankle bracelet that monitors alcohol consumption.

Currently, a period of between 5 and 10 years must pass before a second offense will count towards increased sentencing and penalties.

In other words, if you commit a DUI offense 6 years after your first offense, your first offense cannot be taken into consideration and you will be sentenced as if you had committed a first offense.

The DOJ and the bill are calling for this period to be entirely eliminated in order for all offenses to count towards harsher sentencing for second, third and repeat offenders.

As it stands, the current penalties for a second and third offender are much less harsh when compared to other states.

Repeat offenders are never likely to receive harsher penalties than that of a 3rd time offender.

Interlocking devices and other alcohol and drug monitoring programs are also currently not being enforced by legislation.

In other words, it is not mandatory that an interlocking device be fitted to a vehicle to prevent an offender who has been charged with a DUI from driving while intoxicated.

The period for such a device to be fitted can only be for the period of a suspended sentence. Other than being evaluated for drug and alcohol, no other treatment or education programs are mandatory although they can be ordered by a judge.

What to Do if Arrested for DUI in Missoula, MT?

The first thing worth pointing out, is you should never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For starters, it’s illegal, but you’re also putting your life and lives of others at risk.

Not everyone listens, though, and if you are arrested for DUI, the first thing you should do is contact an experience DUI lawyer in Missoula.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, the focus of changes to legislation is largely on second and repeat offenders who are currently considered to be getting off lightly for a DUI charge.

This is because repeat offenders are considered to be a larger threat to greater society.

At the end of the day, drunk driving laws are put in place to protect the general public and society at large rather than to protect an individual driver who may do themselves harm by driving under the influence.

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