Tuesday, June 28, 2011

REPORT: Overview of 2010 Supreme Court Term

The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Term defined itself as pro-business, conservative and sensitive to any claim that the government was using its power to censor unpopular speakers or speech. Please read the ACLU Summary of the 2010 Supreme Court Term, which focuses on major civil liberties decisions. This report was issued yesterday by Steven R. Shapiro, the National Legal Director of the ACLU.

Want to know more about the ACLU and the SCOTUS? Read more here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Know Your Laws: Wyoming's New DUI Law

Effective July 1st, 2011, Wyoming's new driving under the influence law will make some significant changes to current DUI laws. The new law requires that motorists pulled over for suspected drug or alcohol use submit to breath, blood or urine tests, when requested by the police. Prosecutors and law enforcement around the state have been working on how suspected drivers will actually be tested for alcohol or drugs. This blog post is dedicated to educating Wyoming drivers about the new DUI law, and why the new law could be a civil libertarians’ worst fear.

Although the purpose of the new law is to crack down on drunk driving – especially among repeat offenders – the Wyoming ACLU has some concerns over how the new law will be enforced, as well as the constitutionality of the remotely communicated search warrants. To be sure, drunk driving is reprehensible and is not condoned by the ACLU of Wyoming.

The new law replaces the word “request” with the word “require” when referring to the suspected drivers’ submission to a blood, breath or urine test. In other words, law enforcement officers are obligated to force blood or urine tests on unwilling motorists. Supporters of the new law are adamant that this is necessary in order to prosecute repeat DUI offenders; however, current law already makes a “refusal” admissible in evidence at trial and comes along with an automatic suspension of their driver’s license.

Coming after potentially drunk people with needles just seems like a bad idea! Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper questioned this measure during the legislative session, “What are you going to do? Are you going to strap people down [to test them]? To me that’s a scary visual.”

In order to compel a suspected driver to submit to a chemical test, a police office, under the new law, can obtain a search warrant through electronic transmission. The new law states:

"A remotely communicated search warrant may be issued upon sworn or affirmed testimony of the peace officer who is not in the physical presence of a judicial officer, provided the judicial officer is satisfied that probably cause exists for the issuance of the warrant. All communication between the judicial office and the peace officer or prosecuting attorney requesting the warrant may be remotely transmitted by voice, image, text or any combination thereof, or by other means and shall be recorded...Upon approval, the judicial officer may direct a peace officer or prosecuting attorney requesting a warrant from a remote location to sign the judicial officer’s name on a warrant at a remote location."

What a minute...did I just read that correctly?! A judge can “sign” a search warrant with a text message?! That’s right! According to the new law, an SMS from a judge is all that’s needed in order to issue a warrant to force a suspected drunk driver to submit to a blood draw. Fortunately, we’re not the only ones who have questions about the constitutionality of this provision. Several Wyoming Circuit Court judges said they believed allowing officers to request a warrant by phone violated Article 1, section 4 of the Wyoming Constitution, which states that “no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by affidavits.” Wyoming courts have previously interpreted that phrase to mean that warrants can only be issued based on written affidavits.

Summary and Major Elements of the new DUI law:

• Provides that a person under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance who refuses a chemical test shall still be required to submit to a chemical test upon issuance of a search warrant.
• Creates a "remotely communicated search warrant" which may be issued upon sworn or affirmed testimony of the peace officer who is not in the physical presence of the judicial officer. For issuance of a "remotely communicated search warrant":
• The judicial officer must be satisfied that probable cause exists for issuance of the remotely communicated search warrant;
• All communication between the judicial officer and the peace officer or prosecuting attorney must be recorded
• The judicial officer may direct the peace officer or prosecuting attorney requesting the remotely communicated search warrant to sign the judicial officer's name on a warrant from a remote location.
• A remotely communicated search warrant shall only be valid to administer a chemical test to determine whether a person was driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance after the person refuses the test.
• Results from chemical tests to determine blood-alcohol or controlled substance levels shall only be used to determine whether the person was driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.
• Repeals the administrative penalties for refusing to submit to a chemical test to determine whether a person was driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, except for suspension of a commercial driver's license.
• Makes conforming amendments relating to the repeal of the right to refuse a test

Monday, June 6, 2011

First Redistricting Public Meeting Held in Rock Springs

The first in a serious of redistricting meetings was held in Rock Springs on May 25 in City Council Chambers. The crowd of about 40 was a mixed one including legislative staff, county clerks, politicians, elected officials and a sprinkling of citizens. The legislative staff presented a short power- point on redistricting fundamentals and also on the use of the legislative website. Testimony was heard on the lack of community of interest representation in some Rock Springs districts. Chairman Cale Case did an excellent job of moderating the program and assuring that all who wanted to be heard by the committee were given time to do so.

It becomes clear in listening to testimony how difficult redistricting is, as speakers all have specific critiques of their districts and how they are drawn. One person testifies that the boundary is drawn down the middle of the street, with their neighbors across the road being in a different district. County Clerks are concerned that precinct and district changes that will affect voting procedures in their counties.

In addition, politics come into play quickly as voting districts are redrawn. A group from Teton County offered draft changes for areas in their part of the state, and resentment of the affects of those changes were already clear.

The reality remains that as a result of the significant changes in many counties, Wyoming must redistrict in order to meet the criteria of equity of populations in each district. The ideal House district will be 9,394 (+ or – 5%) and the Senate district will be 18,788 (+ or – 5%). The decision has been made by the committee that Wyoming will continue with 30 Senate seats and 60 House seats, with 2 house seats “nested” in each Senate district.

Here are the seven redistricting principles adopted by the committee:

1. Election districts should be contiguous, compact, and reflect a community of interest:
2. Population of election districts should be substantially equal, with the range of deviation not to exceed 10%;
3. To the greatest extent possible, in establishing election districts:
a. County boundaries should be followed;
b. The majority of the population of each county should be in one district;
c. Census blocks should be followed.
4. The plan should avoid diluting voting power of minorities in violation of the Voting Rights Act;
5. The House shall have 60 seats and the Senate shall have 30 seats;
6. Consideration should be given to two (2) contiguous House districts in each Senate district; and
7. Significant geographical features should be considered in establishing districts.

To learn more about redistricting, please visit the ACLU's Redistricting Q&A page.