Judge, prosecutors frustrated DUI device not available despite law
While law took effect last week, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet still doesn't have ignition interlock devices ready
Monday, June 29th 2015, 4:43 PM EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- A Louisville judge on Monday wanted to put an ignition interlock device on a DUI suspect's vehicle, likely making the defendant one of the first in the state to take part in a new law designed to crack down on drunk driving.
But the interlock devices, which check a driver's breath for alcohol before allowing a vehicle to start, are not ready for use -- even though the law took effect last week.
Despite having months to prepare, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is still not ready to enact the law, Jefferson District Court Judge Anne Haynie said in a court hearing. The holdup is due in part to a lack of licenses for the devices, she said.
“It's frustrating for everyone involved,” Haynie said during the hearing. “Everyone knew this (law) was going to go into existence on June 24. The whole state of Kentucky knew this was going into existence on June 24.”
So Haynie denied a request from a prosecutor to suspend the license of a man charged with driving drunk because the interlock device was not available as an alternative option, as required by the new law.
And it may be a scene that repeats itself in courtrooms across the state at least for a little while.
“Right now, there is no way for any criminal defendant to go out and get an ignition interlock device,” said defense attorney John Harrelson in an interview. “The law went into effect before the agency that was to oversee the law was prepared to deal with it.”
Chuck Wolfe, a spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said that considering all of the agencies involved – state police, court clerks, judges, vendors – the cabinet has “proceeded as well as it could under the very short time frame that the legislature gave.”
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell said prosecutors will continue to ask judges to suspend licenses in DUI cases when appropriate, while waiting for the cabinet to address the issue.
“We would have expected this to be ready to be implemented when the law took effect,” O'Connell said in an interview.
Assistant County Attorney Paul Richwalsky said a prosecutor tried to find out last week why the cabinet was not ready when the law took effect but "didn't get a satisfactory explanation."
In an interview, Wolfe said the law has been difficult to implement, as the state has to certify vendors for 120 counties, have the equipment checked by state police, get licenses for the drivers and train offers on how to inspect the devices, all in a relatively short time.
Wolfe said the interlock program will be up in running within the next month and claimed that Kentucky was moving much faster than other states that have implemented the devices.
“It has moved as fast as it could move under the circumstances,” he said. “It's going to work itself out.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, a sponsor of the interlock bill, said he has not heard anything from the cabinet or anyone else about problems with the implementation of the law.
“Obviously if there is something that needs to be addressed, we will address it,” he said, adding that he would be calling Haynie to see what was going on.
The interlock devices, which are about the size of a mobile phone, are wired into the ignition system of a vehicle.
Defendants ordered to have the equipment installed in their vehicle either while their case is pending or as punishment for a conviction must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle. If they have alcohol in their system, the vehicle will not start.
The bill, in part, provides hardship licenses that are supposed to allow people with suspended licenses to drive to work, doctor's appointments or other places allowed by the court with ignition interlocks.
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