New law increases prison time for convicted drunk drivers

Heather Curtis
WMAL.com

WASHINGTON (WMAL) – Convicted drunk drivers in Maryland could now spend more time in prison. The Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders Act, which goes into effect Tuesday, increases the maximum prison time for repeat drunk drivers and those convicted of vehicular homicide from three to five years. It also increases the maximum prison sentence for someone convicted of a DUI while driving with a minor from six months to a year. The law applies to people driving vehicles and boats.

“Repeat offenders are overly represented in all fatal car crashes where alcohol is a factor. That’s not just Maryland, that’s anywhere,” said Kurt Erickson, president of the non-profit Washington Regional Alcohol Program.

Also under the new law, those convicted on three or more prior occasions will now spend ten years in prison and/or be slapped with a $10,000 fine. AAA Mid-Atlantic said research shows a person with a prior DUI has four times the risk of being involved in a fatal car crash.

The new law is meant to save lives by deterring people from driving drunk and could help the state achieve its goal of zero vehicle related deaths or injuries, a law called Vision Zero. In Maryland 188 people were killed in crashes involving drunk or drugged drivers in 2017 according to AAA, and more than 3,200 people were injured. Anyone with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher is considered drunk.

A repeat drunk driver killed Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta, 24, in 2015 while Leotta was working a DUI checkpoint. Luis Reluzco, 47, had been arrested for drunk driving on two prior occasions. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter by motor vehicle in Leotta’s death and in 2016 was sentenced to a decade in prison, the maximum penalty.

Erickson said Leotta’s death got the ball rolling on enacting tougher drunk driving laws in Maryland.

“Having his family and having his image and his bravery in being a lost hero really galvanized forces in Annapolis to create a change,” Erickson said.

That change started with the passage of Noah’s Law in 2015, which requires all convicted drunk drivers to blow into breathalyzers to get their cars to start. It went into effect in 2016.

Erickson said the ignition interlock law was championed for more than five years before Leotta died.

In the future, Erickson is hoping a law will be passed to make repeat drunk driving a felony.

Copyright 2019 by WMAL.com. All Rights Reserved. (PHOTO: Montgomery County Police Twitter)

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