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Montana Supreme Court Holds 24/7 Sobriety Program is Constitutional

This July, the Montana Supreme Court decided whether the intermediate court erred in concluding that the state’s 24/7 Sobriety Program was unconstitutional. The high court concluded that, while the 24/7 Program did not, on its face, violate the state or federal constitutions, the statute was unconstitutional as applied to the defendant because the trial court did not conduct an individualized assessment to determine whether he was an appropriate candidate for the program.

Montana enacted the 24/7 Sobriety Program Act in 2011 in response to high levels of drunk driving in the state. The Act’s purpose was to protect the public by reducing the number of people on Montana’s highways who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and to strengthen the options available to prosecutors and judges in responding to repeat DUI offenders.

To achieve this purpose, the Act permits a court to require an offender to submit to twice-daily breath tests as a condition of pretrial release. Offenders must also pay $2 per test. If an offender fails to comply with the Act’s requirements, he is guilty of the offense of criminal contempt. Montana resident Robert Spady challenged the Act’s constitutionality after being charged with criminal contempt for failure to comply.

Spady was charged with a DUI and Careless Driving in April 2013. After pleading not guilty, the court ordered him to participate in the 24/7 Sobriety Program as one of several conditions of release.

Spady missed three tests while enrolled in the Program, prompting the Lincoln County Attorney’s Office to charge him with three corresponding counts of criminal contempt. Spady moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the 24/7 Sobriety Act was unconstitutional for the following reasons:  (1) it is overbroad; (2) it violates the Eighth Amendment guarantee to be free from excessive bail; (3) it violates the Equal Protection Rights due to its disparate impact on indigent defendants; and (4) it violates the Fifth Amendment Due Process right to the presumption of innocence. Spady additionally argued the Act was unconstitutional as applied to him because he was denied a chance to present evidence of his ability to pay.

The trial court denied Spady’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the imposition of the 24/7 Sobriety Program was constitutional due to Spady’s expectation of diminished privacy and the fact that the fees were analogous to similar fees traditionally imposed on pre-trial defendants. The court also noted that Spady did not present evidence that he could not pay the fees.

Spady appealed and filed a motion to dismiss the contempt charges. The district court granted the motion, concluding that the statute was unconstitutionally vague and could therefore lead to “arbitrary and prejudicial results.” The district court further concluded that the 24/7 Sobriety Program was an inappropriate delegation of legislative authority to the Attorney General because it failed to provide objective criteria to determine the fee. Finally, the district court held that the fees constituted pretrial punishment in violation of due process.

The state appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, which decided to exercise its supervisory powers to determine whether the 24/7 Program was in fact unconstitutional. The court first held that the district court erred in concluding that the statute failed to provide sufficient guidance to the Attorney General’s office. The district court erroneously relied on a portion of the statute that was not yet in effect when Spady was charged and therefore had no effect on him. The Montana Supreme Court also held that even in the newer portions of the statute on which the district court relied, the legislature properly delegated its powers to the Attorney General because it established standards for guidance and did not grant unfettered discretion.

The Montana Supreme Court also rejected Spady’s new argument that the breath tests constituted an unreasonable search in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The court concluded that, while the breath tests indeed constituted a Fourth Amendment search, the privacy interests implicated were minimal and were outweighed by the state’s important governmental interest in preventing fatalities on public roads. Thus, the court concluded that such searches were not unreasonable.

While holding that the 24/7 Program was not unconstitutional on its face, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s holdings that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to defendant. Specifically, it agreed that the fees imposed by the 24/7 Program constituted pretrial punishment in violation of Spady’s due process rights. The court reasoned that, while the fees imposed could constitute an appropriate condition of release, the judge must conduct an individualized assessment of the individual’s unique circumstances before imposing the testing requirement. Since there was nothing on the record to indicate the judge in this case conducted such an individualized assessment, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision to remand the case with instructions to dismiss Spady’s contempt charges.

Since the court already decided to affirm the district court’s decision to remand the case to the trial courts, it found it unnecessary to address the merits of the vagueness challenge as applied to Spady.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation for people in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses. To learn more and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 217.525.0520.

More Blog Posts:

Kentucky Corrections Officer Lies Under Oath, Puts 200 DUI Cases at Risk, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, August 3, 2015.

THC Breathalyzer to Hit Market Soon, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, August 3, 2015.

Ten Illinois Cities With the Most DUI Arrests, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, July 15, 2015.

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