Jun 14, 2016

Striking down Laramie ordinance, court says DWUI penalties must be left up to Legislature

Wyoming’s cities and towns can’t create their own, tougher laws against drunk driving, the state Supreme Court says.

In a Friday ruling, the Wyoming Supreme Court struck down a City of Laramie ordinance that imposed stiffer penalties for people caught driving with particularly high blood alcohol content levels.

Wyoming Supreme Court in Cheyenne. Courtesy photo
Laramie leaders passed their “aggravated offender” ordinance in 2010. It required the city’s municipal court to sentence drunk drivers to at least a week in jail if their blood alcohol content (BAC) was .15 percent or higher; a second offense with a BAC of .15 percent or more, meanwhile, required at least a month behind bars. (A driver is considered legally drunk as soon as their BAC hits .08 percent.)

The Wyoming Supreme Court said Laramie leaders overstepped their authority in creating the enhanced penalties.

Justice Kate Fox wrote that the state Legislature has created uniform traffic laws, intended to prevent uncertainty and confusion.

Wyoming law does require anyone caught driving with a BAC of 0.15 percent or more to get an ignition interlock device — which prohibits them from driving unless they can provide a clean breath sample — but does not impose any other extra punishments based on BAC. There’s no minimum sentence for first-time offenders and the minimum for a second offense is seven days.

“It is clear the legislature intended traffic regulations, including those related to driving while under the influence, be uniformly applied throughout the state,” Fox wrote in the ruling. In voiding Laramie’s ordinance, she said the city’s enhanced DWUI penalties were “disrupt[ing] the uniformity of the statutory scheme.”

Laramie’s ordinance had been challenged (on different grounds) all the way back in 2012, by a woman who was arrested that February for driving while under the influence for a second time in 10 years and with a BAC of .18 percent. It took more than four years for the issue to reach and be decided by the Supreme Court.

Last week’s decision may mean lesser sentences for that woman and another man who’d challenged the law after a 2014 DWUI arrest.

~ By CJ Baker


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