Prior to July of this year, draconian criminal penalties and license suspension repercussions in Indiana could often derail the livelihoods of otherwise productive people dealing with recurrent alcohol and/or drug dependency issues.
In the form of Habitual Offense penalties, those dealing with alcoholism and drug addictions in many forms were too often left to the compelled sanction of mandatory loss of licenses for life and/or incarceration at the expense of tailored sentencing that meets the challenges of curbing underlying addictions.
As to habitual license suspensions, far too many gainfully employed individuals who have turned their lives around have had little option but to drive to support a family or otherwise meet the challenges and requirements of the daily obligations of life. On the one hand we punish individuals for failing to maintain child support obligations or castigate them for becoming government dependent yet have uniformly failed to recognize the critical importance that driving has become in terms of fulfilling such societal obligations within our daily lives.
For such individuals who have been caught driving while adjudged a habitual offender, lifetime license suspensions have become a burden the likes of which have often compelled criminal conduct in the form of knowingly driving while suspended. Both rural and urban communities in Indiana are far too frequently under served by meaningful forms of public transportation. For individuals residing within such communities, the laws in this state formerly provided little light at the end of the tunnel to allow for licenses to be restored even where dramatic turnarounds in one’s life circumstances have been achieved.
Where the underpinnings of our criminal justice system claim to promote the interests of rehabilitation above that of punitive vengeance, there has formerly been little positive lawful recognition toward those who have made successful recoveries from afflicting alcohol and/or drug addictions to underscore such assertions.
As of July, that has begun to change as at long last laws in this state have begun to reverse course in doing far more to recognize the importance of motor vehicle transportation as it relates to promoting a more vibrant economy.
Within the realm of habitual license suspensions no longer will certain types of criminal offenses be considered eligible for suspending a driver’s license to a habitual level of ten years. Further, unlike prior law that suspended an individual’s driving privileges for life if stopped for driving while a habitual driving offender, today’s state law sets the cap of such a license suspension to the maximum incarceration permitted for the charged offense.
Therefore one found culpable for driving while a habitual traffic offender as a level 6 felony now faces a maximum additional license suspension of two and one half years as opposed to life!
Although not an appellate lawyer, in light of these legislative changes it will be interesting to observe how many appeals initiated by those sentenced under former laws will emerge and the procedural success by which such aggrieved individuals can restore their driving privileges. It stands to reason from my perspective that although such individuals were properly sentenced under former laws in effect, the spirit of these new legislative enactments should allow for the modification of former sentences where such restrictions prove to unnecessarily punish societal rehabilitation and the support of needed dependents.
Our legislature has gone further than merely modifying such criminal statutes by additionally inserting a whole new section of codified laws enabling for individuals to seek the recourse of specialized driving privileges as a mean to curb the compulsion to commit a criminal driving while suspended offense with the intent to live as a productive member of society. Such privileges are yet another avenue to provide renewed legal avenues of hope for individuals even under the looming burden of lifetime suspensions.
Although as I have stated elsewhere, different Indiana counties and judges will have different timelines and policy positions with which to incorporate these new philosophies to liberalize driving restrictions I believe intended by these recent legislative enactments. Yet, I believe with such laws on the books it will only be a matter of time when judicial philosophy will be positively altered so as to capitalize on utilizing these new statutes to allow for productive driving activity that best promotes rehabilitative behavior and positive societal activity.
Both prior to July as well as today, those with three or more operating while intoxicated convictions are subjected to up to eight years of mandatory imprisonment consecutive to any criminal sentence imposed within the underlying criminal charge. However, where the former statute mandated three to eight years of such mandatory imprisonment should an individual accrue three qualifying dui or drug convictions within their respective lifetimes, the present statute requires four such convictions total or three within ten years to qualify for such habitual treatment.
Further, the habitual statute in question has reduced by two years the mandatory minimum additional incarceration time that may be imposed from three to one as well as eliminated some former qualifying drug offenses that increased eligibility for such treatment.
It is refreshing to note that Indiana has moved in a concrete positive direction in recognizing the need to truly promote rehabilitation for those convicted of habitual offenses. Years in the making, let there be no mistake as to the role experienced criminal justice attorneys throughout our state have made in effectuating such positive change within our most recent laws.
Through the efforts of courtroom attorneys, I believe legislators have been properly influenced as to the need to reform these former criminal statutes; statutes that both promoted violations of laws for those seeking to become productive members of society and unduly punished those dependent upon such punished individuals for daily support obligations.
On far too many occasions throughout the state I have had to battle prosecutors intent on utilizing former criminal statutes in a manner that put vengeance before productive rehabilitation. These former habitual penalties in Indiana, although still incredibly punitive, have at least been modified so as to provide renewed hope for those afflicted with former sentences that compelled needless incarceration and prolonged license suspensions.
As there may be a considerable variance in terms of the application of these new laws within a given criminal jurisdiction, it is imperative that individuals seeking new found legal avenues for the restoration of drivers licenses or reduction in sentences recognize that not all jurisdictions will be uniform in how they adapt such new laws.
However, I am encouraged to report on legislative action that has logically addressed a legal need that can ultimately prove to have a major positive impact on promoting positive and productive social behavior.