Teen tragedy prompts new DUI bills

March 31, 2009 8:23:12 AM PDT
Sobriety checkpoints were banned in Texas 15 years ago but they could soon return.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Currently there are two bills pending before Texas lawmakers, which would step up law enforcement against drunk driving. One of those bills is named after Harris County teen Nicole 'Lilly' Lalime, who was killed a few months ago. Today, her accused killer, John Winne, who has a history of driving drunk, will face a judge.

The numbers are alarming. Texas has the highest number of alcohol related traffic deaths in the country. If these bills are fully passed, they will be the toughest pieces of legislation the U.S. has ever seen.

'Lilly's bill' was created after Lalime. She was hit and killed as she stepped off her Cy-Fair school bus back in December. Prosecutors say Winne fled the scene and was intoxicated at the time of the accident. His blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. He was arrested and charged with intoxicated manslaughter.

Court records show just six months prior to the accident, Winne was sentenced to 180 days in jail for driving while intoxicated with a child in the car.

Lilly's bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate, would allow police to order blood or breath tests for anyone they suspect of being drunk. If the driver or boater has a previous DWI conviction or if there is a child in the car or boat, it extends the involuntary testing if the suspect is involved in an accident where someone is injured.

Currently, the law only allows such involuntary testing in accidents involving death or serious bodily injury.

The second bill before Texas lawmakers could bring back sobriety checkpoints. The Texas Supreme Court banned those check points 15 years ago because there was no set standard.

Under the tentatively approved plan, police would have to pick spots for a roadblock based on a history of problems in the area and then advertise the location. The stop couldn't involve checks on driver's licenses or proof of insurance, and individuals cannot be detained for more than three minutes.

The bill also goes beyond what other states have done by including a list of guidelines designed to safeguard against harassing certain bar owners, profiling certain drivers or causing unreasonable delays. But there are some big concerns the pending law would disrupt the lives of more innocent drivers than it would nab guilty ones.

Lilly's Law is expected to pass in the House. However, the fate of the sobriety checkpoint bill remains unseen. It has one more procedural vote in the Senate before moving on to the House, where more opposition is expected.

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