One of the consequences of living in the information age is that more and more details about you are available to, and being gathered by, the government at both Federal and state levels. Sometimes this tabulation of your life’s details is connected to programs and services meant for your benefit. But on other occasions, what the government keeps on file about you can be used against you.
Want a recent example of how your government records can turn on you? Look no further than the “impaired driver database.”
What is the impaired driver database?
You may remember that early last year a new law took effect: The Impaired Driver Elimination Act” (IDEA). This legislation included a provision to create a database to keep track of people convicted of drunk driving, but until recently no one had gotten around to implementing it. That shortcoming has now been rectified, thanks to the efforts of Department of Public Safety and Highway Safety Office. So what actual effect will the database have, now that it is operational?
One use will be to allow courts to keep track of whether someone accused of a DUI violation has had any prior DUI or APC convictions. One of the problems with Oklahoma law before the enactment of the IDEA legislation was that unless a DUI conviction was through a “court of record” – and most municipal courts were not courts of record – the conviction would effectively be “invisible” to other courts. That, in turn, contributed to the problem of repeat offenders receiving punishments suitable for first-time violators over and over again. The database is an attempt to close this loophole. It is arguable, though, that this database is duplicative as Oklahoma already maintains a Master Driving Index that records all actions the Department of Public Safety takes on a person’s license.
Another purpose of the database is to help police to better pinpoint places that are “hotspots” for potentially excessive drinking activity. It enables officers to add specific locations where, for example, someone had his last drink before being pulled over. This in turn offers the possibility that police can use this information to plan targeted patrols for drunk drivers in the vicinity of these locations.
What does this all mean to you?
Although the impaired driver database is intended mainly to help courts to keep repeat DUI offenders from escaping the consequences of their behavior, the ability of police to access it during a DUI stop has led to concern that they might abuse what they learn: if for example the officer sees that you have prior DUI convictions, then it’s possible at least in theory that this can prejudice his treatment of you.
Police may be quick to reassure us that the requirement for probable cause before making an arrest will minimize this risk, and point out that the use of databases in other law enforcement contexts is already going on so we shouldn’t worry about officers using it in the wrong way. But until we have a sufficient track record to bear out these assurances, defense attorneys will need to be vigilant that this new database doesn’t turn into “Too much of a good thing” by offering the temptation for abuse of your rights if you are suspected of drunk driving.
If you are facing a DUI or APC charge, contact us at 405-231-5600 for a free consultation with our experienced DUI defense attorneys.