Tennessee enacts two new DUI laws

Staff Reports • Updated Jul 22, 2014 at 9:50 PM

Two new driving under the influence laws went into effect July 1 in Tennessee, and officials believe both laws will help curb the behavior of high-risk, repeat impaired offenders and also help the state tackle jail overcrowding issues.

Amelia’s Law was named for Maryville teenager Amelia Keown, who was killed in a head-on collision with a repeat drug and alcohol offender. The new law makes it possible for any offender whose crime involved drugs or alcohol to be monitored with a “transdermal monitoring device.” Both transdermal alcohol ankle monitors and drug patches meet the law’s definition of a transdermal device. This enhanced supervision option means repeat offenders can be monitored 24/7 and held accountable for any violation of mandatory sobriety.

Amelia’s Law applies to any person paroled on or after July 1. The law is seen as particularly tough because it expands monitoring beyond the traditional drunk driver population to any criminal offender who was impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of their offense. 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 50 percent of state parole and probation violators were under the influence of drugs, alcohol or both when they violated the terms of their current sentence. And 75 percent of cases of domestic violence involve an offender who was drunk at the time of the conviction offense.

In addition to Amelia’s Law, the DUI Recidivism Reduction Act also took effect July 1. Focusing specifically on drunk drivers, the law gives courts the power to sentence second- and third-time DUI offenders to substance abuse treatment as a condition of probation, but only after completing a mandatory period of time in jail. It also allows courts to require transdermal alcohol monitoring or location monitoring, combined with random alcohol testing, for those who are released into the community and undergoing the mandatory treatment.

According to data published by Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems, the largest manufacturer of transdermal alcohol monitoring device, every day in the U.S., 99.4 percent of those monitored with a transdermal monitor are completely sober and compliant. In order for a system to meet the requirements of the state’s new laws, it must automatically sample a subject’s perspiration at least every 30 minutes, around the clock in order to ensure compliance with court-ordered sobriety.

Tennessee faces significant prison and jail overcrowding issues, costing taxpayers nearly $900 million each year. More than half of the state’s 109 jails house more inmates than beds—some with two to three times as many inmates as they are certified. County jail inmates cost the state’s taxpayers around $80 per day, per offender, and those facilities are particularly overburdened, as convicted offenders heading for state prisons often languish at county facilities because space isn’t available at the state level.

Drunk drivers are considered by some to be on the list of “nonviolent” offenders who are first to be released to ease overcrowding. Officials believe the monitoring options, combined with the law’s mandatory treatment after incarceration, will keep communities safe while helping ease the financial burdens on the state’s taxpayers.

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