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Drivers who have at least 0.08% blood alcohol content two hours after getting behind the wheel would still face driving under the influence charges under legislation introduced by Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem.
Courtney said Senate Bill 1503 addresses an Oregon Supreme Court decision from November.
The case concerned John Hedgpeth, who was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in Coos County in 2014. Prosecutors relied on breathalyzer results showing his blood alcohol content at 0.09% two hours after he was pulled over for riding his motorcycle without a helmet.
He challenged his conviction, arguing that the breathalyzer results weren’t proof that he was drunk at the time he was riding his motorcycle because police waited nearly two hours before testing his blood alcohol content level. During that time, he argued, his body had time to absorb any alcohol he consumed, pushing his alcohol content level past the legal limit.
The court noted in its decision that other states, such as Colorado and Washington, have laws that make it illegal to have a blood alcohol level of 0.08% at the time of driving or two hours after. The court further noted that it was up to the Legislature to establish a similar law in Oregon.
Courtney, who serves as Senate president, is now trying to do just that. He said that the court decision caught “a lot of people by surprise.”
“Unfortunately, right now, because of the way the law is written there is a hesitancy on the part of our law enforcement,” he said. “And, therefore, we’re going to have to redo it.”
Last session, Courtney unsuccessfully introduced a bill last session to lower the legal blood alcohol content level from 0.08% to 0.05% for a driving under the influence conviction.
Shaun McCrea, executive director of the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said that her group would be watching the bill but hasn’t taken a stance on it.
She said that someone could take a shot of whiskey and drive before it has time to affect them.
“As we know, alcohol doesn’t generally affect someone instantaneously,” she said.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.