Many Charged with DWI in NH Now Facing Ignition Interlock

Under a new law, the Department of Safety can schedule a hearing and require ignition interlock for a person convicted of DWI 1st offense. Ignition interlock is the device that is installed in vehicle at driver's expense, requires the driver to provide a breath test in order to start the car, and reports a violation if the driver provides a positive breath test.

In these hearings, many drivers have been ordered to install ignition interlock ---

  • even people who never before been in trouble
  • and even in cases where the prosecutor did not ask for ignition interlock
  • and even in cases where the Judge refused to order ignition interlock!

The authority for these new hearings comes from RSA 265-A:36-a. This new law, effective as of January 1, 2013, gives the Department of Safety authority to convene a hearing and require ignition interlock upon conviction for DWI, vehicular assault "where alcohol was involved," or negligent homicide. The law allows the hearings examiner to order ignition interlock for no less than 12 months, and up to 24 months, "upon a finding that the safety of the person and of other users of the highway would be enhanced thereby...."

That is the sole standard in the law - whether "safety" would be enhanced. Of course, safety would be enhanced if every person was required to install an ignition interlock (even non-drinkers might loan out their car, have their car stolen, etc). Thus, the law gives the hearings examiner limitless discretion to act upon his or her own personal philosophies or whims.

The process that has unfolded is manifestly unfair. I have seen a woman in her thirties, who had no record and blew a .17 breath test, ordered to install ignition interlock. I have also seen a young man, not even old enough to drink, who blew a .20 - and was not required to install ignition interlock. There is only one possible explanation for these disparate outcomes: Different hearings examiners presided over their hearings.

I made a Freedom of Information (NH Right to Know Law) request and obtained the Orders from over 70 ignition interlock hearings. In my next installment, I will discuss what I learned from reading these Orders.