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Thursday, April 6, 2000

DUI bill would
turn patients into
criminals, public
defender says

By Rosemarie Bernardo


William Bento, deputy public defender, is worried that a bill would put drivers who take prescription drugs behind bars for operating a vehicle under the influence.

Legislature 2000 "As far as drugs are concerned, there are legal pharmaceuticals that people are given by doctors, these can show up in their system and technically you can be arrested and convicted for a DUI offense," he said.

"That's the scary part for most people," said Bento.

Bento told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week that House Bill 1881 Senate Draft 1 broadens the definition of impairment and consolidates offenses of alcohol and drugs under one umbrella.

The committee is to hold decision-making tomorrow on the measure.

"The bill tends to put together DUI alcohol and DUI drugs in one measure," said Bento.

Any amount of drugs listed in Chapter 329 of the Scheduled I to IV Uniform Controlled Substances Act of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, found in your system, including any pharmaceuticals, could technically make you guilty of an offense, Bento said.

The bill states: "'drug' means any controlled substance as defined and enumerated on schedules I through IV of chapter 329, or its metabolites."

Bento said, "I think the real difficult thing is that it's a lot easier to measure alcohol in the system than it is to measure drugs. For drugs, there's no test of that nature."

Sen. Avery Chumbley, co-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the definition of "impair" in the bill is not specific.

"Driving under the influence could be anything," said Chumbley (D, Kihei). "This seems to be so broad."

Members of the Hawaii Medical Association submitted testimony with strong concerns pertaining to the presence of any drugs in a person's blood or urine.

"Determining whether a drug does in fact impair a person's ability to drive is not as straightforward as determining blood alcohol content's impact. There are numerous pharmaceutical compounds that could impair an individual's ability to drive," said Heidi Singh and Phil Hellreich.

Capt. Bryan Wauke of the Traffic Division at the Honolulu Police Department said, "What this law does differently is it actually makes a definition of what impair is."

"Where, in the law as it stands, it doesn't really say what impair means," said Wauke. "We follow the DUI definition of it, meaning it affects the ability to drive."

Arrests are based on impairment and probable cause, he said. Wauke said experts from the police department can determine whether a person is impaired or not by drugs, adding that experts can determine the types of drugs involved based on observation.

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