NH Officials Advocate for Higher Penalties for DWI Test Refusal

Senior safety officials in New Hampshire are looking to harshen the punishment for drivers who refuse to undertake a test when they are stopped on suspicion of intoxication. New Hampshire has one of the highest refusal rates in the country. Assistant Safety Commissioner Eddie Edwards announced that passing a bill aimed at encouraging more drivers to consent to testing will be a priority for his department in 2024.

The legislation being proposed would increase the suspension period from six months to a year for those refusing to undergo either a breath or blood alcohol test or a 12-step field sobriety test to check for drug impairment. Current law suspends the license of all first-time DWI offenders, whether they take a test or not, for six months. Chris Casko, a lawyer and head of the Department of Safety’s Hearings Bureau, pointed out that there are currently no negative consequences for refusing a test which results in a 70% refusal rate.

The proposed legislation also includes alterations to other DWI punishments. For example, the license of a motorist found guilty of aggravated driving while intoxicated would be suspended for three years rather than two. The licensing suspension period for a second or subsequent refusal of a test would be extended from two to three years. DWI convictions and refusal of tests occurring out of state would count towards a driver’s record in New Hampshire. Drivers convicted of aggravated DWI could potentially avoid jail time if they submitted to testing, and the license suspension time for offenders pleading guilty to a DWI could be reduced to no more than 180 days.

This proposal met with opposition from Robert Moses of the New Hampshire Criminal Defense Lawyers Committee. Moses argued that these changes could cause the Supreme Court to classify these proceedings as criminal rather than civil administrative proceedings. However, Sen. Bill Gannon, the bill’s primary sponsor, believes that the increased penalties would act as a deterrent.

Moses also highlighted that many people refuse the test due to a lack of trust in the process and a misunderstanding of their rights. He suggested that the proposed modifications should eliminate any administrative license suspension for those found not guilty or have their DWI case dismissed.

The increasing number of motorists under the influence of drugs other than alcohol, such as marijuana, cocaine, and powerful prescription painkillers, is also complicating enforcement of these laws. While the state Senate approved the bill in a voice vote in March, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire is opposing the measure.

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