Montana Supreme Court Upholds 24/7 Sobriety Program

The high court says breath testing can be appropriate as a condition of pretrial release

By LISA BAUMANN, Associated Press

HELENA — The Montana Supreme Court upheld the state’s 24/7 Sobriety Program in a ruling Thursday, saying charging associated fees for alcohol monitoring is not pretrial punishment in violation of the Constitution.

The high court said breath testing can be appropriate as a condition of pretrial release. But, they likened the testing fees to bail and said a judge must do an individual assessment to determine whether the program is appropriate for a defendant.

Under the program, a judge can order people charged with a second or subsequent drunken driving offense to pay for twice-daily breathalyzer tests or an alcohol monitoring bracelet as a condition of their pretrial release.

The court’s decision comes after the state appealed a lower court ruling that said fees charged for the state’s 24/7 Sobriety Program amount to unconstitutional pretrial punishment. The case involved Robert Spady, who had a 2006 DUI conviction and was arrested for DUI in April 2013. He participated in the program for 113 days and paid $452 in fees.

Spady missed or was late for three breath tests and was charged with contempt of court in each case. He appealed his contempt convictions, arguing the 24/7 law was unconstitutional. The high court on Thursday directed a lower court to dismiss Spady’s contempt charges because no assessment had been done to determine whether it was appropriate for him to participate in the program.

Attorney General Tim Fox said Thursday in a statement the ruling is a victory because 24/7 is a proven accountability tool.

“Driving under the influence of alcohol is a significant problem here, and we in the law enforcement community are delighted that the court recognized both the constitutionality and effectiveness of the program,” he said.

County sheriffs can choose whether to participate. Currently, 24 counties are running the program and six more are in the process of starting their own, according to the Attorney General’s office.

A new law created the program in 2011 with the goal of reducing the number of people who drive under the influence of alcohol or dangerous drugs.

Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement Thursday he helped lead the effort when he was attorney general to build the 24/7 program with lawmakers and law enforcement.

“When it came to repeat DUI offenders, Montana had been doing the same thing for decades and expecting different results,” he said. “Today’s ruling will ensure that this program continues to save lives, make our highways safer, and hold drunk drivers accountable for their actions.”

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