Should Michigan Drunk Drivers Causing Death be Forced to Pay Child Support?

As Michigan’s drunk driving laws have continued to evolve, the range and type of punishment upon conviction has continued to increase over time. In the 70s when DUI laws were just beginning to be taken more seriously by drivers, police, prosecutors, and judges alike, punishment was usually limited to a fine and points on the offender’s driving record.

In the 80s, the DUI laws of the 70’s were being amended, and these amendments almost always included some new or increased penalty. Jail time began to be considered for repeat offenders and in those cases involving serious injury or death. Fines and costs began to increase, and a variety of driver license sanctions such as restricted driving and a suspension of driving privileges.

The 1990s ushered in a whole new slew of increasingly draconian DUI laws, and the current incarnation of Michigan’s DUI laws dates back to 1999. It was at this time that the definition of DUI changed in Michigan as well. Previously, an offender could be charged with OUIL, UBAL or both. Charges were frequently reduced to reckless driving or “OWI,” which prior to 1999 meant “operating while visibly impaired.”

Now, OWI is the principal crime, and automatically includes OUIL and UBAL as available theories to the prosecution, depending on the facts of the case. The punishment for reckless driving was also increased in 1999 to discourage reductions to this non-alcohol related driving misdemeanor.

Additionally, in 1999 automatic driver license registration was added for repeat offenders, and other possible sanctions were added or enhanced as well. This included things like “costs of prosecution.”  Breath alcohol interlock devices also became mandatory in some cases, and vehicle forfeiture or registration denial were also included in the statute.

Legislators, sometimes with the encouragement of MADD and sometimes not, are frequently on the lookout to sponsor new changes to some aspect to Michigan’s DUI laws because such bills, and their corresponding laws, tend to be very popular with many constituencies.

In Missouri, one such law, if passed, would require drunk drivers who cause the death of a parent to pay child support until the parent’s minor children reach the age of majority. Called Bentley’s law, the impetus for the law was a case involving the death one child and the child’s parents, leaving two additional children without a means of support. The driver was said to have had a bodily alcohol level of 2 times the legal limit. It is not known if this was a breath or blood alcohol test. The children were just 3 and 5 years old. The sponsor of the law hopes to make it national.

It is common for a case with particularly disturbing facts to result in a broadening of the DUI laws. And is also common for such laws to create a “buzz” that leads to additional states jumping on board. Eventually, national legislators take an interest, and the law becomes national when attached to highway funding. This is exactly how Michigan was forced to become an .08 state in 2003.

The proposed DUI law has already caught the attention of the national press, and at least one other state is currently considering adding this law to their books. If the past is any indication, look for Michigan to amend their DUI laws within the next 2-3 years.

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