A drunken driving conviction for John Hedgpeth seemed a cinch.

An Oregon state trooper pulled Hedgpeth over in 2014 for riding his motorcycle without a helmet. The trooper took him into custody for driving under the influence of intoxicants and brought him to the North Bend Police Department for an intoxilyzer test. It was one hour and 45 minutes after Hedgpeth had been stopped before the test began. The test showed his blood alcohol content was .09%. The legal limit in Oregon is .08%.

Charged. Convicted. Case closed?

Nope. Hedgpeth appealed and the case ended up before the Oregon Supreme Court. The defendant claimed the state’s evidence did not show he was intoxicated at the time he was riding the motorcycle. The court ruled in his favor.

In many cases, more police work would have prevented that outcome. The prosecution could have presented evidence of a roadside sobriety test. There could have been testimony from experts showing that a .09% blood alcohol content about two hours after he was stopped indicated he was impaired at the time of the stop. That evidence, though, was not presented at his trial.

Most states allow a two-hour window if .08% is established. Not Oregon. Some states allow a three-hour window. So this legislative session Senate Bill 201 would change Oregon law. It creates a two-hour window. And the bill seems on track to pass. The bill also would make a second change in the law regarding DUII. It relates to the Supreme Court’s decision in what is called the Guzman case.

In Oregon, a person cannot be held accountable for DUIIs in other states unless the laws are essentially identical — the Oregon law’s “statutory counterpart.”

Ricky Guzman was indicted for felony DUII and other crimes. The indictment for the felony DUII alleged Guzman had two prior convictions for DUII from other jurisdictions, including one from Kansas.

Guzman challenged the Kansas conviction was not a statutory counterpart and so his Oregon charge could not be a felony.

The Kansas statute is broader than Oregon’s statute in that it applied to operating any vehicle and allowed conviction based on a blood alcohol content of .08% within three hours of operating a vehicle. The court found for Guzman.

The impact could be that Oregon would be the only state in the country that did not allow out-of-state DUII charges to count toward a felony. SB 201 puts a stop to that.

In 2019 in Oregon, 34% of the driving-related fatalities were related to alcohol-impaired driving. That’s more than 160 deaths. Oregon needs to change the law. Pass SB 201.

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