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Twp. sets first reading for 'Super Drunk' ordinance

by CJ Carnacchio

March 21, 2012

Oxford Township last week took a step toward giving itself the power to locally prosecute so-called "super drunks" in order to recoup a portion of the fines levied against offenders.

Township officials voted 5-0 to set a first reading of proposed language that would incorporate the state's "Super Drunk" law as part of the local Code of Ordinances.

This reading is scheduled for its 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 11 meeting

"If you do come through Oxford Township and you (have a bodily alcohol content of) 0.17, you should be fined higher; you should be spend more time in jail," said Oakland County Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Patterson, commander of the township's substation.

Enacted in 2010, the state's "Super Drunk" law prohibits a person from operating a motor vehicle if they have a bodily alcohol content (BAC) of 0.17 or higher.

"That's really getting up there," Patterson said. "You have to drink quite a bit to get to that point. That's why they call it Super Drunk. You're a big time threat to the community driving around like that."

If convicted, the intoxicated offender faces one or more of the following penalties 1) imprisonment for up to 180 days; 2) a fine of between $200 and $700; and community service for up to 360 hours.

Patterson noted the law only applies to first-time offenders.

Unlike other state laws regarding drunken driving, which can be prosecuted under local ordinance by local prosecutors, super drunks could only be prosecuted under state law, which in Oxford and Addison townships means using the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office.

That's because the Super Drunk law raised the maximum jail term and fine for offenders, which prohibited police officers from writing tickets for high BAC violations under local ordinances.

As a rule, the penalty for ordinance violations is generally a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment for up to either 90 or 93 days.

However, Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed into law Public Acts 7-11 which permit townships, villages and cities to adopt and enforce local ordinances that reference the Super Drunk law, which is contained in Section 625(1)(c) of the state's motor vehicle code.

Patterson explained to township officials that deputies have arrested super drunks in Oxford since the law took effect and they will continue to be arrest them, even if local ordinance language is not adopted.

"It's not that we can't arrest (them now)," he said. "It's just going to be charged (under) state law, instead of local ordinance."

That means none of the fines imposed on convicted offenders come back to Oxford Township to do things like help offset the cost of police protection.

"If you want any type of revenues to be generated at the local level, you're going to have to adopt (this)," Patterson told the board.

Since the Super Drunk law took effect, Patterson told this reporter his deputies have arrested 13 offenders in the township. "It's almost up to one per month," he said.

Trustee Melvin (Buck) Cryderman was skeptical.

"Personally, I think this is strictly just a money-raising issue," he said.

Cryderman indicated he doesn't believe this will deter folks who choose to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.

"It certainly isn't any kind of thing that's going to change the way they act or the way they drink," he said.

Patterson disagreed. He believes the stiffer penalties, such as 180 days in jail versus 93 days, will make some people think twice.

Treasurer Joe Ferrari said he's in favor of "anything that gets those people to think first."

Patterson believes adopting the Super Drunk law as part of the local Code of Ordinances "sends a signal" that the township is "concerned about the safety of our citizens . . . and the people coming through here."

"We take it seriously," he said.