Arrested for DUI, Woman’s Probation Becomes Nightmare

Over the weekend, the New York Times detailed the story of a black woman in Baltimore who, 18 months after being arrested for driving with a blood-alcohol level of .09, has endured more than a year of unusually stiff penalties and harsh treatment.
The story highlights the tale of 40-year-old Donyelle Hall who had a clean criminal record before her arrest on Christmas Day 2013 for drunken driving. After her arrest, the woman was forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorney and court costs, spend more than a month in jail and lost her job. Monthly probation costs for the woman were $385 a month alone.

The story outlines some of the inconsistencies among DUI enforcement from state-to-state — and even judge-to-judge. According to research by WalletHub, DUI laws can vary dramatically between states from a mandatory 10-day jail sentence and 90-day license suspension in Arizona to no mandatory jail time and no license suspension in South Dakota. A 2010 West Virginia case found that officers could issue a DUI and suspend a person’s license even if authorities couldn’t specifically prove that the person was driving.
According to Hall, officers wrongly said she and her husband resisted the officer’s commands and that she closed her eyes during her field sobriety test. When she was taken to jail, the Hall failed to provide a sufficient breathalyzer sample three times because of the 5-foot-tall woman’s lung capacity before she failed the fourth test.
Her .09 observed blood-alcohol level was over the .07 threshold in Maryland, but the story notes that for a woman of her weight and size, the difference between .06 and .09 would have been one glass of wine in a four-hour period.
In addition to highlighting inequities and shortcomings in the American probation system, the story also addresses how discretionary sentencing can vary from judge to judge. Hall said she had to appear in court five times to explain why she was forced to move “around the corner” after her apartment was infested with mice. Initially the judge denied her request to move, and eventually Hall didn’t move anyway.
According to NHTSA, drivers with blood-alcohol levels between .08 and .10 are 11 times more likely to crash than drivers with no alcohol in their bodies.
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