Ignition Interlock Devices Give DWI Defendants an Opportunity, but Also Create an Obligation

Ignition interlock devices (IIDs) are becoming more and more common in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases in New Jersey and around the country. For a certain period of time after some DWI convictions, an individual may only operate a vehicle equipped with an IID, which requires the person to submit a breath sample and prevents the ignition key from turning if the person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is too high. The IID requirement acts as a safeguard against drinking and driving by people with DWI convictions, while still allowing them to drive when necessary. A lawsuit against a city government demonstrates a possibly unexpected consequence of this policy:  claims of negligence against cities and other local governments for failing to ensure that a person ordered to use an IID actually does so. This type of lawsuit adds a civil—as in, non-criminal—element to DWI law.

The installation of an IID is mandatory for certain DWI offenses, or it may be within a court’s discretion to order its use. Before a person may start the vehicle, they must blow into a device that, just like a breathalyzer, measures BAC levels. The maximum allowable BAC is usually less than the “legal limit” of 0.08 percent, since the point of the device is to prevent a person from driving before they near the point of legal impairment.

New Jersey’s IID law expressly acknowledges that some people with DWI convictions will continue to drive anyway. For many first DWI offenses, New Jersey judges have discretion to order the use of an IID for six months to one year after driver’s license restoration. If a first DWI involves BAC of at least 0.15 percent, however, an IID is mandatory, both during the license suspension period and for six months to a year afterwards. The penalties for a second, third, or subsequent DWI offense include mandatory IID installation during the license suspension period and for an additional one- to three-year period. A person commits a new offense if they violate an order to use an IID, and they could also face additional penalties in the underlying DWI case.

The family members of several people who were killed in a DWI accident in Seattle, Washington several years ago filed a negligence claim against the city. They alleged a negligent failure to supervise the driver, who was on probation for his fifth DWI offense. The driver had reportedly failed to fulfill multiple obligations set by the court, but the claimants alleged that the court and court officials failed to monitor him adequately. The driver pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide later that year and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Another case from Washington state offers an idea of the uphill battle a plaintiff faces in this sort of claim. The plaintiffs in Benskin v. City of Fife sued the city for reasons very similar to the claim in Seattle. In 2005, an appellate court ruled that the plaintiffs’ claims could proceed to trial, but in 2009, the court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that they had failed to prove that the city’s “failure to supervise [the driver] proximately caused the accidents that resulted in their damages.” Causation is a key element of any negligence claim.

A DWI charge in a New Jersey court requires careful planning and preparation. If you are facing DWI charges, you should consult with an experienced and knowledgeable New Jersey DWI attorney. We have dedicated 100% of our practice at Levow DWI Law, P.C. to defending DWI cases, and we are available 24/7 to help you understand your rights and prepare a strong defense for you. Contact us online or at (877) 975-3399 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Governor Blocks Bill that Would Lessen Some DWI Penalties, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 24, 2015

“Alcohol Restricted Driver” Laws in Some States Impose Substantial Restrictions on People with DWI Convictions, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 12, 2015

Ignition Interlock Devices Would Be Required in All New Jersey DWI Convictions Under Proposed State Senate Bill, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, November 28, 2014

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