HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - New Alabama laws change the stakes for people who get picked up for driving under the influence. Officers can charge you with DUI if you're driving and they believe there is probable cause that your blood alcohol level is above the legal limit, you're high on drugs, or both. As of July 1, the law includes two new changes.
One of the laws deals with the "look-back period" which the court uses to determine whether a DUI conviction is a first offense, second offense, etc. This matters when it comes to a person's record, and how many DUI's are counted on their record.
Now, the court looks back 10 years from the date of the new arrest to the last conviction. The previous law was five years from conviction date to conviction date.
"If you had a DUI nine years ago and you get arrested today, under the prior law it would be a first offense," DUI Attorney Phil Price said. under present law, it would be a second offense which carries more severe penalties.
Under the new "look-back law," a repeat offender faces greater consequences.
"If you get arrested for DUI and you have a prior felony, at any time in your past, this one becomes a felony automatically," Price explained.
Price said a felony DUI in the past, no matter how long ago, puts more trouble on the line for a person, under this new rule.
"Even if it was 30 years ago, and you get arrested for DUI today, they're going to charge you with a felony," Price said.
The second change to the state's DUI laws deals with ignition interlock systems, and who the state mandates to install one in their vehicle. The biggest change is people who are in pretrial diversion programs must install an ignition interlock.
"If you enter into any type of diversion program, you will do an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for six months or the length of time of the diversion program, whichever time period is longer," Price explained.
In the past, those in diversion programs didn't have to pay for the device. Now, both those participants and convicted DUI offenders must have an interlock, and it's a costly tool.
"There's a maintenance fee, there's an installation fee and there's a monthly fee and there's a fee to pay to the court," Price said.
North Alabama, Interlock Inc. is one of the companies that sell the devices. They said interlocks cost about $75 for installation, the offender must have the device read monthly which is about $60 and each violation is around $50. That doesn't include the hundreds or thousands of dollars they owe the court.
But, under the law, people who can't afford the interlocks will receive them for free.
Some lawyers, including Price, believe the expansion of the interlock law is a result of interlock makers' lobbying efforts.
Senator Jim McClendon, R-Springville, sponsored this bill that became law. He told our news partners at AL.com the law is about stopping repeat DUI offenders.