District of Columbia police and attorneys yesterday enthusiastically endorsed a proposal under consideration by the City Council that would toughen the standards the city uses to prove drunk-driving cases.
The legislation, proposed by council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), would give drivers no room for defense if a breath test indicated a .10 ratio of blood and alcohol. Under current law that level indicates only the "presumption" of drunkenness, and allows defendants an opportunity to argue otherwise.
The average-size adult male weighing 140 pounds would need to consume four 1 1/2-ounce drinks within an hour to reach the .10 ratio, according to police..
"We need to send a message that those people who elect to drink and drive will be removed from the streets," said police Capt. Wayne Layfield, commander of the police traffic enforcement branch, echoing the sentiments expressed by representatives of the D.C. Corporation Counsel. The remarks came at the public hearing on the Shackleton bill.
The measure comes at a time when several area jurisdictions are moving toward stronger drunk-driving measures. Maryland recently raised its minimum drinking age to 21, and Virginia enacted mandatory sentences for repeat offenders, and dropped an education program that allowed some offenders to avoid fines or prison sentences.
Shackleton, who said her measure was based on a similar law in California, said she would probably drop another provision that would make readings of .05 to .09 "a presumption" of drunkenness.
Geoffrey Alprin, deputy corporation counsel for the criminal division, testified that that provision would add up to 700 cases to his already overworked legal office. "There's no point in passing legislation that no one can do anything about," Shackleton said. "The major weapon we have is fast trials."
Alprin said his office rarely prosecutes any one who tests below .10 because "juries just don't convict them."
Layfield said 17 persons died of alcohol-related traffic crashes last year but said the District had one of the safest records in the nation. He said the city has 1.6 deaths per 100 vehicle miles compared with the national average of 3.4.
Council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large), chairman of the transportation committee, which is considering the legislation, indicated the committee would accept Alprin's proposal to close a legal loophole that now prohibits the city's attorneys from telling juries whether a defendant has refused to take a blood test.
Shackleton's bill is scheduled to come before the council for a vote later this spring.