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Bill Awaiting Governor’s Approval Could Double Prison Terms for Certain Drunk Driving Offenses

May 21, 2022, 5:30 PM HST
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A bill is awaiting the governor’s approval that could double prison terms for certain intoxicated drivers.

The Hawai‘i County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney sent a letter urging Gov. David Ige to sign Senate Bill No. 2163, HD1, CD1 into law.

The bill will increase the penalty for first-degree negligent homicide from a class B to class A felony, when certain aggravated factors are present, including a prior conviction for impaired driving, driving with a license that was suspended for impaired driving, or when the offender is considered a highly intoxicated driver.

“We encourage the public to join us in support of the passage of SB 2163, share their concerns about how repeat offenders and highly intoxicated impaired drivers threaten our roads and request that Gov. Ige sign this bill into law to provide a more appropriate punishment where an impaired driver’s selfish and careless actions cause another person’s death,” Prosecuting Attorney Kelden Waltjen stated in a news release.

Currently, negligent homicide in the first degree is a class B felony offense punishable by a 10-year prison term or five years probation and the possibility of a suspended jail sentence. If signed into law, SB 2163 would elevate the penalty to a non-probationable class A felony punishable by a 20-year prison term.

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A “highly intoxicated driver” is a person whose measurable amount of alcohol is 0.15 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters or cubic centimeters of the person’s blood or 0.15 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of the person’s breath, according to the prosecutor’s press release issued Saturday.

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According to the State of Hawai‘i, Department of Transportation there were 94 traffic related deaths across our state in 2021. According to the Hawai‘i Police Department, there was a 73.3% increase in the number of fatal crashes between 2020 and 2021 on Hawai‘i Island. Of the 26 fatalities on Hawai‘i Island in 2021, impairment was a factor in 21 of those deaths.

“SB 2163 is a step in the right direction by holding repeat offenders and highly intoxicated drivers accountable, bringing awareness to these issues, encouraging sobriety and safe driving habits, and ultimately saving lives,” Waltjen stated. “By increasing the penalty for negligent homicide where these aggravated factors are present, we promote respect for the law, ensure that offenders receive an appropriate sentence, provide adequate deterrence for future criminal activity, and protect the public.”

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