Huntington Woods has adopted an ordinance that allows for local prosecution of "super drunk" drivers.
Michigan’s recently enacted “super drunk” law boosted penalties for people convicted of driving with blood alcohol content (BAC) levels far surpassing the .08 legal limit. Mayor Ronald Gillham said that by approving the new ordinance to locally incorporate the law, Huntington Woods can impose the stricter penalties on a citywide level.
“It’s a matter of being able to put a new state law onto our books so we can enforce it,” he explained at the recent City Commission meeting.
Huntington Woods City Attorney John Carlson said the super drunk law works to create a separate classification for drunken drivers. “This second category would be for persons who are convicted whose BAC is .17 or higher, which is more than double the level,” he said.
Carlson explained that previously tickets for such charges were written under state law so it “got out of city prosecution and the city got no revenue for it.” Legislation now allows city law departments to adopt by reference the particular “super drunk” section and impose the maximum penalties.
If Huntington Woods seeks higher penalties on convicted drunken drivers, consequences could mean community service, imprisonment up to 180 days and a fine up to $700.
In addition to the possibilities of double maximum imprisonment time and a $200 hike in fines, convicted drivers can also be required to receive alcohol treatment for at least one year. These penalties are for drivers with no prior DUI-related charges in the last seven years, and consequences could escalate for repeat offenders.
According to the Michigan law site, superdrunklaw.net, “ A conviction under the new legislation will compromise your driving privileges and jeopardize your present and future employment. You will also have created permanent criminal record for yourself.”
Huntington Woods Director of Public Safety Steve Fairman said the new ordinance means nothing more than "procedural changes" for the city. No laws or penalties have changed, but Huntington Woods is now able to impose maximum consequences on convicted super drunk drivers, he said.
“All we have to do now is write a ticket for drunk driving charges,” he explained, rather than having to get a warrant and deal with court hearings for enforce the penalties.
Fairman said that in 2011, 68 arrests were made for drunken drivers in Huntington Woods and 24 have been arrested so far this year.
As for how many arrested drunken drivers were charged with having a blood alcohol content of .17 or higher, Fairman said that information wasn’t available, but “I can tell you that it was a handful.”
At the City Commission meeting last Tuesday when the ordinance was adopted, Commissioner Mary White asked Carlson to explain what would happen in the hypothetical situation that Huntington Woods imposed the highest penalties on a convicted drunken driver who had no money or insurance, yet got imprisoned for 180 days.
“Who pays the cost of imprisonment?” she asked.
Carlson responded that it was the taxpayers who would pay for it, though a spike in imprisonment costs isn’t expected.
“It’s certainly the taxpayers who pay for imprisonment,” he said. “But the truth of it is, no one really goes (to jail) for 90 days, much less 180. It’s a rarity.”
In recent police reports, several arrests were made for drunken driving, in Huntington Woods and Berkley. On the weekend of April 14, two arrests were made for drunken drivers with BAC levels higher than .17.