The writer, a Democrat, represents Prince George’s County in the Maryland House of Delegates.
The destruction left on our roads from drunken or drugged driving has become an all too common tragedy for Marylanders. Despite years of prevention and awareness campaigns, far too many drugged and drunken drivers continue to populate our roads.
Last session, I sponsored legislation, supported by the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, that would have increased the maximum criminal penalties for repeat impaired drivers who have already been convicted once of manslaughter, homicide or causing life-threatening injury related to impaired driving.
I introduced this bill again this year. House Bill 157 is necessary for the protection of our citizens. It is co-sponsored by Del. Michael A. Jackson (D-Prince George’s) and Del. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery).
When we buckle our children or elderly parents into the car or nervously watch our new drivers pull out of the driveway, we rightly expect that our government has penalties sufficient to keep repeat offenders off the road.
Some of our maximum sentences for these serious traffic offenses are pitifully low — in some cases, no greater than the maximum allowable sentences for a “simple” drinking-and-driving offense that doesn’t involve a fatality or life-threatening injury.
The “enhanced penalties” bill would increase the maximum penalty for automobile manslaughter from 10 years to 15 years, homicide while under the influence of alcohol or drugs from five years to 10 years and criminally negligent manslaughter from three years to five years. It also would increase certain life-threatening-injury crash penalties from two years to five years. Again, these increases would affect those at-fault drivers with a prior impaired-driving conviction. A prior equivalent offense committed in another state or federal jurisdiction would also trigger the enhanced penalties.
We should continue to increase awareness of and financing for alcohol and drug treatment programs. Unfortunately, increasing penalties remains an important part of prevention.
This legislation would allow judges more flexibility in crafting sentences by enabling the court to increase the amount of time served, increasing the length of monitored probation to ensure that treatment is being rendered or both. The longer sentences for repeat offenders would help those with serious alcohol and drug addictions maintain longer periods of proven sobriety and give them access to court-monitored programming and treatment.
The legislation passed the House in 2015, but our 90-day session ended before the bill could reach successful completion.
Too many Marylanders are touched by these tragedies in some way, by losing a family member or a beloved part of the community. No family should have to learn that a loved one was lost at the hands of someone arrested before for this grievous offense yet was still legally driving.
I sincerely hope HB 157 becomes law in 2016.