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What’s New - September 2000

Legislative and Other News in the DUI Prevention Community

September 2000 Update 

No more phony blocks on road in Iron County , Utah  

By Brady Snyder
Deseret News staff writer

IRON COUNTY, Utah - A controversial police tactic, designed to help cops nab drivers toting or using drugs and alcohol on the road, has been temporarily shelved in Iron County but remains vibrant throughout the rest of the state.

If Iron County Attorney Scott M. Burns has his way, the surveillance maneuver, dubbed the "no-block roadblock," will remain on the shelf permanently.

Utah Highway Patrol troopers regularly conduct "no-block roadblocks" that consist of strategically placed officers and a sign set up along the highway shoulder. Sign messages reading "drug-sniffing dog ahead," or "narcotics officers, checkpoint up ahead," are the normal bait, UHP spokesman Chris Kramer said.

Troopers examine cars passing the sign and watch for drivers who behave suspiciously. Kramer cited obvious examples like flipping a U-turn or throwing things out a car window as reasons cars would be pulled over.

Other less blatant but still suspicious offenders are followed and are pulled over if they disobey any minor traffic law. Troopers then conduct a routine traffic stop, although they are often shadowed by a drug-sniffing canine while sidling up to a stopped vehicle.

"Those dogs can pick up any sign of drugs even when they're outside the car," Kramer said. If the dogs sniff something suspicious it gives troopers probable cause to rifle through the vehicle, he said.

Under Utah law police agencies must garner a judge's approval before conducting a roadblock. With a court setting specific guidelines including dates, duration and purpose for the traffic checks, agencies can use roadblocks. Burns says the UHP never receives court permission for "no-block roadblocks," making the resulting arrests illegal.

Kramer argues the signs don't constitute roadblocks but merely trick would-be drug users and dealers; thus his department doesn't need court approval.

"It's not a roadblock because we're not stopping traffic," he said.

Burns doesn't buy the argument.

"My concern is that this is an attempt to circumvent the statute, and if it is, I'm confident that an appellate court is not going to allow it to continue," he said.

Besides the potential violation of state law, Burns says, the process may infringe on constitutional rights involving search and seizure.

"The highway patrol has set forth a plan and will present it to a judge to see if it conforms with the Fourth Amendment," Burns said.

The pseudo roadblocks, then, should soon become court tested or rejected. Burns said Iron County has four DUI cases pending that stem from arrests derived out of the "no block" searching procedure. When the process is given a judicial once-over it could be reinstated or disallowed altogether. Kramer said the UHP, often in cooperation with local police agencies, will continue to use the "no block" strategy in all other Utah counties as the Iron County legal saga unfolds.

The "no block roadblock" is used with greater frequency in southern Utah, where Kramer says drug syndicates use the rural highways as routes for interstate trafficking.

Iron County Sheriff Dude Benson said he wouldn't rule out using the "no block" method but is steering clear of the current debate.

"That's between the county attorney and the highway patrol," he said. "We're staying out of it."

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Proposed ordinance in Winona, Minnesota targets college keg parties

WINONA, Minn. (AP) August 14 -- Hoping to curtail loud parties and underage drinking in this college town, city officials are considering an ordinance to penalize residents caught with more than one keg of beer in their homes.

Under the proposal, which will go before the City Council in a few weeks, residents caught with more than one keg in their homes can be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to $700 in fines and 90 days in jail.

About 9, 000 students attend St. Mary' s University and Winona State University.

" The idea is if you curb the party -- you curb the underage drinking, you curb the noise and you curb the litter, " Mayor Jerry Miller said. " I realize kids go to school and they have parties, and we' re not going to stop that -- we' re just trying to control it."

Officials at both universities approached the police to get their help in keeping its students safe.

" The presidents of both colleges have come to me in the past few years saying, ' We need help. The kids are getting too drunk and getting injured and damaging property, " ' Police Chief Frank Pomeroy said. " (They said) we need to get the emphasis on education and not on being a party town."

Modeled after similar ordinances in St. Cloud and Mankato, the one-keg proposal also comes partly in response to the Rental Housing Code passed in March. That Winona ordinance penalizes landlords for public nuisance arrests made on their property.

If police make arrests three times within one year, the landlord could lose his or her rental license. So landlords wanted help from the city to prevent big parties from getting out of hand.

" What we don' t want to do is to penalize the average person, " Miller said. " There are some people who have kegs in their house and don' t cause any problems. If you had 10 kegs in your house and didn' t make a lot of noise, the police would never have a reason to come to your house."

The proposal is already causing a stir among students.

Those determined to drink are considering block parties where each house would have one keg. Others say they' ll just move the parties farther away from town, inching into the rural areas away from the watchful eye of the ordinance.

" I know there are ways around this -- there always are, " Miller said. " You can have one keg in the house and two kegs waiting in a car ... I mean, I went to school too, you know."

John Spaeth, 21, a senior at Winona State University, lives at Pepsi House, which has the reputation of throwing the most parties off-campus. The house usually holds parties -- with five to seven kegs -- twice a week. He isn' t too supportive of the proposed ordinance.

" Uh, that wouldn' t be good, " he said. " I think maybe it would cut down on big parties, but we' ll just probably have ... parties instead where you fill up a garbage can with juice and hard alcohol."

Some students say the ordinance could be a deterrent to large noisy parties.

" It' s going to stop people from having more parties, and especially large parties that will attract attention, " said Andy Davis, 23, a sixth-year senior at Winona State.

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License to Speed? Pre-Paid Traffic Tickets Spark National Debate

NEW YORK - Let's face it. Nobody likes getting a speeding ticket. So the National Motorists Association has come up with what they think is a brilliant idea: Pre-paid traffic tickets.

Now, the insurance-like program, which offers to pay for DUI violations as well, has sparked a nationwide controversy about safety on America's roads.

The program works like this: For a monthly fee of $5 to $50 - the amount varying based on the amount of coverage - NMA members can 'insure' themselves for up to $1,000 of traffic violations each month. As long as the ticket involves points on the license, the association will pick up the tab. The violation can be anything from speeding and illegal lane changes to drunk or reckless driving.

"It seems that more and more these days, the (traffic) laws are unjust," says Eric Skrum, a spokesperson for the driver advocacy group. "This is simply a way to help people fight unwarranted and unjustified tickets."

The NMA offers a 'legal defense kit' to all those who enroll in the 'pre-paid' program (they can't officially call it insurance because they are not licensed to sell policies). The purpose of the 9-pound kit, Skrum said, is to point out ways in which officers can get things wrong, not to highlight loopholes in the law.

"We just want to make people aware of their legal rights," he said.

But the American Automobile Association, the nation's oldest motoring club, sees it differently.

"It's clear you're paying because you're anticipating breaking the law," says Mantill Williams, AAA's national spokesperson. "It flies in the face of good sense and logic and we don't think it's going to promote safe driving."

Indeed, some statistical studies have shown a direct link between excessive speed and traffic accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly a third of all fatal crashes in 1998 were speed-related. In addition to the human tragedy, the economic impact of such accidents averages to nearly $30 billion a year.

But the Wisconsin-based NMA, which lobbied to eliminate the 55-mph national speed limit in 1995, insists that many of the country's speed limits are under posted. According to Skrum, politics influences posted speed limits more than engineering studies do, with some states under posting 'for revenue purposes alone,' he said. The message: Just because you were caught speeding doesn't necessarily mean you were driving dangerously.

Driving fast and driving recklessly are separate issues, Skrum says, and the normal deterrence to reckless driving are still there: "People don't want to hurt themselves. They don't want to damage their cars. They don't want to injure others. And they don't want to pay higher premiums," he says.

So far, about 30 people have signed up for the pre-paid traffic tickets. But if the NMA deems the program useful to its 7,000 members, it may extend the offer to non-members as well. That is, only if Wisconsin's Insurance Commission - which is currently looking into the legality of the program - doesn't nip the program in the bud first.

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Wisconsin Father Pleads No Contest in Teen Party Case

WAUKESHA, Wisconsin - A Town of Eagle father has pleaded no contest to a ticket for failing to prevent an underage drinking party where middle-schoolers videotaped themselves drinking, using drugs and fondling each other.

Kenneth Burner, 44, must pay $427 for the non-criminal ticket, Circuit Judge Mark Gempeler ordered.

Burner's son and other 13- and 14-year-old students who attended a Dec. 11 party at Burner's house made the videotape to cheer up another girl who was hospitalized with a spinal injury after a drunken driving crash.

"We're lighting up for you. . . . Wish you were here," a youth said on the video.

Eagle Police Chief Hans Lux said he had warned Burner that his son was planning an underage drinking party.

Burner said that Lux expressed concern only about traffic, not drinking. Yet Burner said he stayed at home to supervise the party, and locked his beer in a car trunk to keep it from the teens. He said they went outside to a barn where they drank and smoked marijuana without his knowledge.

Burner's attorney, Carlos Gamino, said in an interview that Burner was pleading no contest only because he didn't want to embarrass his son by forcing the son's friends to testify at a trial.

Burner did not appear in court and repeated attempts to reach him for comment Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful.

District Attorney Paul Bucher said he believed there was evidence Burner "knew or should have known" about the beer that some teens brought to the party in backpacks.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Aug. 21, 2000.

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Albuquerque Decides City Can Seize Homes Where Kids Drink

Tusday, August 22, 2000

By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Journal Staff Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico - Albuquerque councilors Monday gave the city the authority to seize a home if the owners do nothing to stop their kids from hosting beer parties.

"Underage drinking is a big problem," said Councilor Brad Winter, who sponsored the ordinance. "If there's anything we can do to curb this phenomenon in our community, we should do it."

The measure gives neighborhoods and city officials strong leverage to require homeowners to crack down on their kids' drinking parties, Winter said.

The measure, approved 7-1, strengthens the city's nuisance-abatement ordinance, which allows the city to seize houses known for drug dealing and prostitution. Councilor Mike McEntee cast the lone vote against the bill. Councilor Alan Armijo was absent.

McEntee told other councilors he agreed underage drinking is a problem but argued that another law won't help.

"What we need is more and better enforcement of laws we have," McEntee said.

City Attorney Bob White called the measure an "attention-getter" for homeowners who cause chronic problems for neighbors and police.

"This gives us a hammer," White said. "We would work with the parents who may not know their house is a party house."

White said he expects the city to seize few, if any, houses under the ordinance. The city has filed only a few lawsuits under the existing nuisance-abatement law, which is used chiefly to combat drug houses, he said. But the city's ability to seize a house encourages "self-enforcement" on the part of homeowners and landlords, he said.

In April, councilors approved a measure that allows the city to fine or even jail parents who fail to prevent their kids from hosting drinking parties at home. Fines start at $100 for a first offense and climb to $500 for a third offense. People who violate the law four times could spend up to 10 days in jail.

Winter said he sponsored both bills in response to the stabbing death in December of a 16-year-old Eldorado High School student.

The youth was killed during a party at a Northeast Heights home hosted by a teen-ager while his parents were out of town. In that case, Winter said, police were called to the residence on a number of occasions before the night of the stabbing, but no action was taken against the owner.

Winter deferred the home-seizure proposal in April in response to concerns from some homeowners who feared they would lose their home if their kids held a few parties. Others, he said, "didn't want big brother looking over their shoulder."

Winter said he was able to persuade skeptics that the city had no intention of seizing a house after just a few incidents. The city would use the ordinance only if a house became a chronic problem and a source of criminal activity in a neighborhood, he said.

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Downers Grove, Illinois Hotel Managers Back Minimum Age Rental Plan

By Maria Kantzavelos
Special to the Chicago Tribune

August 29, 2000

DOWNERS GROVE, Illinois - Hotel and motel managers in Downers Grove have agreed to push for a village ordinance that would prohibit renting a room to anyone under 21.

Mark Ravenscraft, general manager of Marriott Suites Downers Grove and chairman of the village's Visitors Bureau board of directors, said he wanted to see if managers would be receptive to such an ordinance, in hopes of preventing problems. In a meeting last week , representatives from most of the village's seven hotels and three motels said they were willing to try it.

The idea came from Schaumburg, which adopted an ordinance in May to stop hotels from being used for underage drinking parties.

"In general, we don't really have a problem in Downers Grove. For the most part, we're looking at it as a pro-active measure," Ravenscraft said.

"Our industry is growing, and we just want to be in front of any potential problems."

A "problem" with renting a room to a minor, Ravenscraft said, could mean someone skipping out on a bill, leaving a damaged room or underage drinking.

"We're not saying in Downers Grove there is an overriding issue," Ravenscraft said.

The Marriott Suites, he estimated, sees only three or four situations per year that could lead to trouble with minors.

"There are a lot of very mature young adults out there," Ravenscraft said. "Unfortunately, there are a few that aren't and those are the ones we need to be mindful of."

The managers praised police for alerting them to high school proms and dances. The department lets them know when schools are holding proms to keep hotels on guard for teens looking for a place to celebrate, Police Chief Riccardo Ginex said.

Incidents involving minors renting hotel rooms have become rare in recent years, he said.

"The kids have really taken on a new attitude," Ginex said. "As far as us getting any complaints or responding to situations, it's pretty low."

"For us, it's not really a prom issue, but it's when we let our guard down throughout the remainder of the year that we're susceptible to problems," Ravenscraft said.

Illinois does not have a law that requires hotels to turn away customers based on age, but several hotels have set their own policies.

Suburban Lodge has a corporate policy prohibiting clerks from renting rooms to people under 18, said Jack Murphy, general manager of the Downers Grove facility. And Holiday Inn Express has a policy that requires guests to be 21 or older, said Wendy Heberling, general manager of the Downers Grove Holiday Inn Express.

"Basically, we just want a little bit of backup," Murphy said of the proposed ordinance.

"If a person gets difficult when they're trying to check in, we can say, `Well, it's against the law.'"

Having an ordinance in place also would give hotels some legal recourse when an adult rents a room for a minor, managers said.

If the adult checks in, passes the key to a minor and the bill is unpaid or a room is damaged, the hotel could hold the adult responsible.

As for a potential loss of revenue with such an ordinance in place, Lisa Wisner, director of the Downers Grove Visitors Bureau, said the majority of weekday lodging business comes from corporate guests.

Hotel managers seemed to agree that a law requiring them to turn away guests under 21 would not hurt business.

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By Jeff Coen
Tribune Staff Writer
August 30, 2000

DUPAGE COUNTY, Illinois - Following several fatal alcohol-related traffic crashes in the area, DuPage County's top law enforcement official is promising to push for a crackdown on area bars that overserve patrons and then do nothing as their customers amble out the door to the parking lot.

DuPage State's Atty. Joseph Birkett said he plans to formulate a strategy to better enforce local ordinances on over-serving when he meets with the county's chiefs of police in an annual gathering this fall.

Also in the works is the organization of a local committee of prosecutors, public defenders and judges that will review the state's DUI provisions this spring--from bail guidelines to the sentencing structure.

In an interview this week, Birkett said liquor commissioners in DuPage towns should know when a person arrested for DUI can be traced to a bar in their town and bars that are repeatedly identified by police and prosecutors should face fines and suspensions of their liquor licenses.

Holding bars more accountable is not the answer to the DUI problem, Birkett said, but it could be a key component in a new push to keep intoxicated drivers from getting behind the wheel.

"If we have knowledge or information [about an establishment], we should enforce the law," he said. "When we are able to backtrack and know when a person has been sitting in an establishment for hours being overserved . . . we should bring that to a local liquor commissioner for possible suspension.

"It might not be a suspension every time, but we have to wake them up."

The severity of any punishment should depend on a history of violations, said Birkett, who also has pushed for tougher sentencing guidelines for repeat DUI offenders.

Area police leaders and liquor commissioners contacted Tuesday supported the initiative, but some bar owners urged caution.

Many DuPage towns have DUI notification plans in place that inform bar owners and liquor commissioners when a DUI offender points to a business as the place they visited before driving. Those running the programs were quick to point out the benefits and limitations of the initiatives.

Downers Grove notifies its commission if police making a DUI arrest link a local establishment to their case, said Carol Conforti, an assistant village attorney and liaison to the liquor commission.

She said one licensee that presented a repeat problem was confronted during its liquor license renewal hearing and agreed to send its employees to a class on recognizing intoxication.

"We do advise these businesses if they get a number of DUIs," Conforti said. "And there can be fines or suspensions or non-renewals of licenses if we think it's a major problem."

But Conforti said those who handle such programs recognize that most of the information authorities rely on is coming from the alleged offenders themselves.

"The problem with this type of notification problem is that you're talking to an intoxicated individual who you don't know to be telling the truth," she said. "It can be kind of difficult to pinpoint one establishment."

Bar owners operating under such programs agreed. Jim Montesantos, owner and president of the Founder's Hill Brewery and Pub in Downers Grove, said many people stopped for DUI tell police they've been drinking at a local bar to avoid telling an arresting officer they've actually driven some distance while intoxicated.

Montesantos said he's in favor of raising awareness but said more information is needed before punishing bars.

"You can't really trust information from these people, so I'd hate to see the sanctions just come off that," he said. "It's still unproven in my mind."

Other owners had a different concern. John Wissel, who runs the York Tavern near Oak Brook, said the state's blood-alcohol limit of .08 percent for drivers represents a gray area.

"Depending on your body weight, that can be two drinks in two hours," Wissel said. "You're legally drunk, but is that overserving? If you're in a crash, is that the bar owner's responsibility?"

Both the Illinois Restaurant Association and the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association on Tuesday promised to review any new proposal from county law enforcement.

Another hurdle would be the sharing of information across town lines.

In each of the last three major DuPage cases that resulted in reckless homicide charges for allegedly drunken drivers, those charged were involved in wrecks in towns that were different from those where the drivers had been drinking.

Elmhurst Mayor Tom Marcucci said he would support any plan that would result in more information sharing. In most DuPage towns, the mayor or village president acts as head of the local liquor commission and has broad powers of enforcement. County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom handles unincorporated zones.

Marcucci said most DuPage leaders take their job controlling liquor seriously. He said he would support suspensions for violators.

"Absolutely," he said. "Maybe not on the first offense, but definitely if we noticed a pattern."

Addison Police Chief Mel Mack said he would support a broader-based effort to share information. He said his department puts together an annual summary for the Addison liquor commission that lists DUI offenders and the bar or tavern they allegedly drove from.

"Our commission has no problem calling a bar owner into a meeting to confront them or putting their license on a probationary status," he said.

Naperville Mayor George Pradel said that he suspended one establishment's liquor license for more than 30 days two years ago for overserving.

The business had been cited repeatedly, Pradel said, and faced the tough punishment after a patron left the bar intoxicated and was involved in a serious crash.

Naperville Police Chief David Dial said his department provides a monthly report on DUI information. Most bar owners, he said, are responsible people who don't want their employees serving alcohol to patrons until they stumble out the front door, but he said those who allow the practice should face harsher penalties.

"There has to be something else we can do," said Dial, who added he was horrified by the recent string of crashes, including one that took the lives of a mother and father, and the man's parents. "We don't need another headline that says, `Family of 4 killed by another drunk driver.' That's absurd."

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New DUI Detail in Anchorage is Paying Off

Anchorage, Aug. 6- Accidents caused by drunk drivers have become all too familiar stories in Anchorage, with often tragic endings. Now Anchorage police have a DWI detail looking for these drivers seven days a week, and their efforts appear to pay off. Just in the last week, officers made 50 drunk driving-related arrests, with 17 of those this weekend.

The arrest numbers are big, but the problem isn't getting worse. There are simply more police officers to take drunk drivers off the streets.

Anchorage Police Department Officer Walter Barsch begins patrolling Anchorage streets around 10 p.m. Saturday. He is trying to find drunk drivers, and the way he looks for them is by pulling over every driver with expired plates, broken headlights or any other traffic violation.

"You find a lot of people without valid drivers' licenses and no insurance, and it's just a reason for me to pull them over," he said.

If the driver is drunk, Barsch will have a long night. It takes at least two and a half hours to process a drunk driving arrest if the suspect cooperates.

"If it gets hard where there's gonna be blood drawn and the person is uncooperative, it can go for hours," Barsch said.

At 11:23 p.m., Barsch makes his ninth traffic stop of the night after a driver runs a red light. The driver fails each of the field sobriety tests but one. Later during a breathalyzer test, however, the suspect blows a zero-zero-zero. In other words, no alcohol reading. But the arrest and the paperwork will keep Barsch tied up until 2:30 a.m.

While Barsch is busy working on the stop, other officers arrest and process two other drunk driving suspects, and more are waiting on the streets. Like a 15-year-old who police say took a motorhome from Clippership Motorhome Rentals for a joy ride after a couple of beers.

"As long as there's alcohol and people driving, you're going to have people that make bad decisions," Barsch said.

The question remains: Are people making more bad decisions? Or did the recent rash of DWI accidents just get our attention?

"We get 32 DWIs in a weekend and (people say), 'Wow! DWIs are getting bad.' No, that's the way it's always been," Barsch said. "It's just (that) now we have the officers out there to make the stops.

"The extra patrols are funded by grant money, which will pay for them through Labor Day. APD doesn't say yet what will happen after that date.

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