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Bill would eliminate home confinement as sentencing option for most DUIs

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would end home confinement as a sentencing option for most DUI offenders was advanced by a Senate committee Monday, but only after a scramble for a quorum.

"I'm not sure how sitting around your house is paying back society," the sponsor of HB162, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, told the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee.

The bill eliminates home confinement as a sentencing option for first-time offenders, as well as those convicted a third or subsequent time. Home confinement while wearing an alcohol monitor would be an option for second-time offenders.

Eliason said sentencing those convicted of driving under the influence to home confinement, which means wearing an ankle monitor and still being able to go to work, school or church, is not an effective deterrent.

Offenders could "still have a big party" at their house and get drunk, he said.

HB162, Eliason said, is intended to send the message that the state is serious about the dangers of drinking and driving.

"We need to send a clear message we mean it: Don’t drink and drive," he said.

But a member of the committee, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, questioned taking away a judge's discretion to sentence a first-time offender to home confinement, noting some 70 percent of them won't get another DUI.

"A lot of these people have problems with alcohol," he said. "I see life as a little more complicated, and I’m worried about the implications to come as we harden the punishments."

Dabakis said he was especially concerned because another bill that would lower the legal blood-alcohol limit from .08 to .05 percent could increase the number of first-time offenders in the state, including some not actually impaired.

But Eliason said his proposal to drop home confinement is endorsed by a list of substance abuse, law enforcement and prosecutor groups, including the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

He said the other bill lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit, HB155, sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, would still require a driver to fail a field sobriety test. That bill has passed the House and is awaiting a Senate vote.

Eliason's bill gives judges two sentencing options for first-time offenders, two days of consecutive jail time or 48 hours of community service. He said "sitting at home with a bracelet on is no punishment at all."

Ryan Robinson, chief prosecutor for West Valley City, testified that home confinement has become "the norm" in sentencing because "it’s easier and it’s cheaper, but it doesn’t have the same effect."

Robinson said of 598 felony DUIs in the state in 2016, 22 percent of the offenders were sentenced to no jail time. That number jumped to 32 percent in Salt Lake, he said, even though "there's a wakeup call that goes with seeing the inside of a jail."

Ryan Richards, a prosecutor for South Salt Lake, said "sending someone to their room essentially" isn't proportionate to the potential damage of DUI. He said offenders have self-reported they drive 100 times drunk before being caught.

Richards praised a provision in the bill allowing the court to split up the option of 240 hours of jail time for second-time offenders as a way to help them stay employed. The bill eliminates the option of 240 hours of community service for them.

During the debate, Dabakis left the hearing and there were not enough of the seven committee members present to take a vote. Testimony continued until another member returned, and the committee voted 3-0 to send the bill to the full Senate. Email: Twitter: DNewsPolitics

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