Kansas’ new DUI law bringing big changes
One of the disappointments with the law expressed by state Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, who helped craft the legislation, was that Breathalyzer, or alcohol-level breath test, refusal wasn’t criminalized. That is, it’s not a criminal — but rather a traffic — offense for someone to refuse a Breathalyzer during a traffic stop. While a person who refuses a Breathalyzer automatically loses his or her driver’s license for a year, it’s more difficult for prosecutors to obtain a DUI conviction without the test. “Defendants (who refuse) are less likely to face criminal charges,” said Charles Branson, Douglas County District Attorney. But some prosecutors, including Branson, have taken steps to close that loophole by working with police and judges to streamline the search warrant process for a blood test when probable cause exists. Scott McPherson, county attorney for Rice County, said his office has copied the Douglas County model. “It seems to be working well,” said McPherson, who estimates officers have requested search warrants for blood tests in about a dozen cases since the new law was implemented. Whether district attorneys take the steps Branson and McPherson have to handle refusals is up to each district, and it’s unclear how many counties have implemented similar plans.
The takeaway for drivers who are pulled over, at least in Douglas County, is simple: A refusal will likely lead to a search warrant for a blood test, and refusing will bring about more consequences than if a driver consents. In addition to losing a license for a year, drivers who refuse will be assessed a $400 lab fee for the blood test.
Kendall Heiman, addictions counselor at Professional Treatment Services, performs the substance abuse assessments and evaluations required for all DUI offenders. Judges use the assessments when deciding whether to order further treatment. The biggest change with the new law, Heiman said, is an opening up of state funding for offenders who are tagged in assessments as needing additional treatment. Since the law has passed, Heiman said the treatment needs for offenders who come through her door vary.
For DUI offenders who don’t present the markers for a substance abuse disorder, their treatment plan will consist of the assessment and follow-up at an eight-hour alcohol awareness and information course, Heiman said. But when someone fits the criteria for further treatment, Heiman can recommend outpatient treatment, which can range up to 20 hours of group and individual treatment per week. Heiman said they’ve seen success at this stage of treatment, which can provide the wake-up call to people that they have a substance abuse problem. “There’s this moment of clarity” for offenders, Heiman said. In rare cases, Heiman can recommend inpatient treatment, and the new law allocates state funding for offenders who don’t have insurance and can’t afford inpatient treatment. Gary Lee, director of services at Valeo, the Topeka-based substance abuse treatment facility, said they haven’t yet begun to see DUI offenders sent to their 40-bed facility based on the new law, but he expects to in the coming years. The center provides a wide-range of treatment, including detox, group therapy and individual counseling for their clients, who typically stay about two weeks.
Yearly cost of a first conviction for driving under the influence:Interlock installation and fees: $917
Insurance increase: $60/month
Court/jail costs: $143.50
Treatment: $220 to $270
Fines and probation costs: $810 to $1150
Lawyer: $1,000 minimum
License reinstatement fee: $100
Refusal of breath test to find blood-alcohol level: $400
Total estimated cost range: $3,910 to $4,700
Costs will vary based on service providers chosen and whether someone applies for diversion. Information provided by Ace Bail Bonds, Professional Treatment Services, Douglas County Assistant District Attorney Greg Benefiel, the Ron King Agency and local attorney John Frydman.