Attorney General Appealing Decision on MT Sobriety Program - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Attorney General Appealing Decision on MT Sobriety Program

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MISSOULA -

A Montana judge ruled a state law, credited with cutting down on the number of drunk drivers, unconstitutional. A district judge in Libby recently ruled against Montana's 24/7 Sobriety Program. Now, the Attorney General is appealing the case to the state's Supreme Court.

Many counties, including Missoula, enforce their own sobriety programs. A local detention center director said whether it's the 24/7 statewide program or a county-wide program, this type of pre-trial testing is much-needed across the state.

The state has ordered more than 3,000 people to take part in the Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program since it began in 2011. Now, District Judge James Wheelis is striking down the law as unconstitutional.

In his February 5 ruling, he said fees required by the program "amounts to an unconstitutional pretrial punishment in violation of defendant's due process rights."

A law was passed in 2011 enforcing the program in an effort to bring down the number of crashes related to drinking and driving. Now, anyone arrested for drunken driving two or more times can be ordered to take, and pay for, frequent breath tests before they are tried.

"I hear from the business community that they're seeing a decrease in what has been taking place with DUI's," Missoula Correctional Services Director, Sue Wilkins, said.

Wheelis threw out the law based on a challenge by Robert Spady, a Libby man who was arrested twice for drunken driving in Lincoln County. Spady was ordered to the Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program and paid more than $450 to take part in it. After he didn't show up for testing three times, he was charged with three counts of criminal content.

"That was a big peace of his decision was your giving people new crimes for this, because of the program," Wilkins said.

Attorney General Tim Fox is appealing Wheelis' decision. He released a statement saying,"the 24/7 Sobriety Program is an effective tool to cut down on repeat DUI offenses."

In the state, 26 counties enforce the program. Five other counties, including Missoula, have their own statutes and enforce separate pre-trial supervision programs. They will be unaffected by Wheelis' decision.

"I think this has had a big impact, I think it's a good impact, our clients have said it's helped them, so I think those are good things," Wilkins said.

In Missoula alone, almost 140 people have been ordered to the county's pre-trial sobriety program.

Governor Steve Bullock was a main proponent of passing the law that enforces the Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program. On Wednesday, he released a statement in response to judge Wheelis' decision. 

The statement said, "the 24/7 Sobriety Program has been a resounding success and is clearly making Montana roads safer. While judges routinely require those convicted of driving under the influence to abstain from alcohol, the 24/7 Sobriety Program has finally given law enforcement the tools they need to hold offenders accountable."

The governor said he is confident the law will be upheld.

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