Lawmakers Toughen Up Auto Homicide Law

Lawmakers Toughen Up Auto Homicide Law

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Senate gave final legislative approval Wednesday to legislation making it easier to charge automobile homicide if a motorist "has in his body any measurable amount" of a controlled drug.

Senate Bill 7 toughens a standard that says drivers who cause another's death can be charged with the 3rd-degree felony if they are under the influence of an illegal drug.

The change would trigger a felony if motorists have even a trace amount of an illegal drug in their system, even if the effects of the drug have long subsided.

Senate Bill 7 makes an exception for drivers under the influence of drugs prescribed by doctors.

"It accomplishes exactly what I want to in a very clean and precise way," Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Salt Lake City, said.

Without debate, the Senate passed the bill 21-0 after working it out in a conference committee with the House.

Motorists also can be charged with automobile homicide if they are legally intoxicated when they cause a fatal crash, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher. Also liable are drivers using "any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle."

That standard would remain in law, but an easier one was added for prosecutors, who would have to prove only that a driver "has in his body any measurable amount of a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance."

Legislative analysts said "a limited legal review of this legislation raises no obvious constitutional or statutory concerns."

Drivers who "involuntarily" take a drug couldn't be charged.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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