Analyzing Alabama DUI Law in Light of Arrest of Madison Mayor’s Wife

Serious traffic offenses seem to be a common occurrence in Huntsville, and this topic became more prevalent recently following the arrest of Julie Finley, the spouse of Madison mayor, Paul Finley, on suspicion of DUI and reckless driving. Local news outlets reported that she was pulled over for driving 103 miles per hour on I-565 (65 mph zone), complied with a “preliminary breath test” that generated a result of .273 blood alcohol content (BAC), which is over three times the legal limit. However, that same news report also states that she refused a BAC test, which may have been a more sophisticated blood or chemical test for alcohol content than the breath test. Ultimately, the articles do not provide enough facts to make a full legal analysis, but raise some good issues to consider in DUI and reckless driving cases:

Breath Test Refusal

First, if you refuse any test to determine blood alcohol concentration, then there will be a 90- day suspension of your license. Code of Alabama 32-5-192. This would apply to the BAC test that Ms. Finley refused, according to the article, so it would appear she will face a 90-day suspension of her license, regardless of the outcome of the case.

Further, in any case where a person refuses a BAC test and is later convicted of DUI, then, in addition to the 90-day suspension, the driver will also be required to have the “interlock” device installed in their car for two years. However, a driver can commute the last 45 days of the license suspension upon successful completion of the two-year interlock device period. Code of Alabama 32-5A-191(e). Should Ms. Finley be convicted of DUI, then she would have the interlock device installed on her car as well as face a license suspension of up to 90 days.

Breath Test Admissibility at Trial

The results of the preliminary breath test indicate a high concentration of alcohol, but may not be admissible in court unless the test procedure complies with the standards set forth by the Department of Forensic Sciences in the Alabama Administrative Code §370-1-1, et. seq. and other provisions of Code of Alabama 32-5A-194. Unless the preliminary test complies with the standards set forth by the Department of Forensic Sciences, the results cannot be used against Ms. Finley at trial, though they may still be used for purposes of determining probable cause, which will justify an arrest. Boyd v. Montgomery, 472 So. 2d 694 (Ala. Civ. App. 1985).

Enhanced Penalties

If the preliminary breath test does meet the standards set forth by the Department of Forensic Sciences, and Ms. Finley is convicted of DUI, then she will face significantly higher penalties because her BAC level is over 0.15, the legal threshold for enhanced penalties and the installation of the interlock device. With that BAC level, Ms. Finley would face double the minimum punishments she would have received had the level been below 0.15, and the interlock device must installed in her car. Code of Alabama 32-5A-191(i). The interlock device is a constant monitoring gauge installed in a person’s car to prevent the car from starting unless the driver provides a sufficient breath test, which must be .02 BAC or lower. Code of Alabama 32-5A-191.4. The standard penalties for DUI offenses which would be doubled for Ms. Finley are summarized here for reference.

Reckless Driving

The Alabama reckless driving statute states, “Any person who drives any vehicle carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard for the rights or safety of persons or property, or without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property, shall be guilty of reckless driving.” There is no specific amount of speed or no specific action that will trigger a charge for reckless driving because each case is unique and all facts of the incident must be taken into consideration.

While the excessive speed in Ms. Finley’s case was clearly a primary factor in her reckless driving charge, it is not a requirement that the person charged be speeding. In Hargrove v. City of Rainbow City, 619 So.2d 944 (Ala. Crim. App. 1993), a conviction was upheld for reckless driving where the defendant ran a stop sign, weaved in and out of traffic, and made a right turn at a red traffic light without stopping. Alternatively, the Court of Criminal Appeals refused to uphold a conviction of reckless driving where the driver was speeding by 5 miles per hour and allowed his tires to cross the shoulder of the road for roughly one second. Zann v. State, 17 So. 3d 1222 (Ala. Crim. App. 2009).

In Ms. Finley’s case, officers determined that Ms. Finley going 38 miles per hour over the limit on a busy stretch of interstate roadway at the beginning of rush hour traffic constituted reckless driving. Certainly the excessive speed in this case was a factor, but also the fact that she was speeding around significant traffic in rush hour and while under the suspicion of intoxication.

Alternative Resolutions

We have a terrific article already posted on alternative resolutions in criminal cases, such as pre-trial diversion or intervention. In summary, these programs allow people who do not have a history of getting in trouble and who admit guilt an opportunity to complete treatment programs, pay fines/fees, and regularly report to a program officer so that the case may be dismissed.

Some may think that if Ms. Finley is allowed to participate in a pre-trial program in order to have the case dismissed, it is because she is receiving special favors as the spouse of an elected official. But, in fact, Ms. Finley’s participation in a program like that is to be expected. It is very common for people without significant prior criminal history and whose crimes do not involve victims or physical injury to be offered pre-trial intervention or diversion. Thankfully, no one was hurt by Ms. Finley’s actions and, if she has no prior arrest record, then we should expect for the law to treat her equally and fairly as it does everyone, and give her a chance to complete a diversion program.

If you or a friend or family member has questions about a recent DUI or reckless driving arrest, do not hesitate to contact an attorney at Martinson & Beason, P.C. We are experienced attorneys who care and would be happy to talk with you.