North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Tuesday that a new program designed to stop multiple-offender drunk drivers is on its way to northwest North Dakota.
Speaking at a Kiwanis meeting at Minot's Grand International Inn, Stenehjem announced that the 24-7 Sobriety Program will be enacted in Ward County, as well as all other counties in the Northwest Judicial District, in a month.
Under the program, anyone convicted of a second or subsequent driving under the influence offense will be required to submit to a breath test twice daily, with any positive result for alcohol use resulting in the offender's bail being revoked immediately. Stenehjem said the program will go into effect in one month.
Dave Caldwell/MDN •
N.D. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem speaks Tuesday at a Minot Kiwanis meeting. At the meeting, Stenehjem revealed a new program to ensure the sobriety of certain alcohol-related offenders will be enacted soon in the Northwest Judicial District, which includes Minot and Williston.
Stenehjem said Tuesday that while he is proud to point out that North Dakota is the safest state in the nation for violent crimes, "there is another side to that coin."
"And that's what we're doing with alcohol and drug abuse, and in particular what is happening with our children," he said. "We are on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to teenagers who drink and drive, who will drive when they're intoxicated, who will get into a car with somebody that is intoxicated.
"We're No. 1. We are the worst. And that tells me we have so far to go as a society."
Stenehjem: Board dropped ball
N.D. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Tuesday that the North Dakota Board of Higher Education blew an opportunity to retain the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname, saying he was confident a vote of the Standing Rock Sioux would likely yield an even better number than the two-thirds majority garnered from the Spirit Lake Sioux.
"I negotiated the settlement with the NCAA after we sued them, because I felt they violated the terms of the agreement between the university and the NCAA," Stenehjem said. "I got them three years of time in which they could attempt to get namesake approval,
which every other state had to get.
"Constitutionally, the board of higher education has the authority to make that call. I don't quarrel with that, that's what the constitution says.
"But I do not think that they used that period of time wisely. I think basically that they squandered the time that I was able to get for them.
"And now that they've announced they're going to retire the name, what can be done about it? I'm fearful that there isn't a whole lot that can be done at this time."
Stenehjem said that likely the only thing that can save the nickname and logo now is a decision by the Standing Rock Sioux to hold an election and approve the name.
"But even then, if it happens, the board has to reverse itself.
"I was disappointed. I thought it was a sad day, especially having worked as hard as I did to get them the additional time I think if it had played out, it could've been successful."
N.D. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Tuesday that he is alarmed at the continuing problems of sexual predators using the Internet to lure children or distribute child pornography.
"It is a real problem, and we're working on it in my office in many ways," Stenehjem said. "We are training local law enforcement to pose on the Internet as young children like you see on MSNBC's 'To Catch a Predator.'
"We're doing that here, the difference being that while those TV shows make good TV, they make terrible criminal cases, because they don't do it right."
Stenehjem said that as a result of North Dakota's procedures, "good" convictions are being obtained all across the state on a regular basis.
In addition, Stenehjem said North Dakota and other states have successfully convinced many social networking sites to ban known sex offenders from using their services.
Stenehjem said that he is by no means against the Internet, instead lauding the ability to instant-message his son, who serves in the N.D. National Guard and was deployed recently to Afghanistan.
"It was my son, half a world away, communicating with his dad about not very much important," Stenehjem said. "Which is very comforting, because it meant he didn't have much else to worry about."
Stenehjem said 6,430 people in the state were arrested for DUI in 2009.
"That's one in a hundred. And those are the ones we caught," he said. "Fully one-third of them were second offenders or third or fourth. They had been arrested and convicted once, and they still didn't get the message that we mean business when it comes to driving under the influence."
Stenehjem said North Dakota's program is based on a similar program that proved successful in South Dakota, which was the brainchild of former South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long.
"He was a prosecutor in a small county in South Dakota," Stenehjem said. "And he was seeing a problem. And that problem is similar to one that is being seen all across North Dakota. People who are coming into the jail or into the courts who are being arrested be it for DUI, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect are there in large part because they have an alcohol or drug problem. And nothing much is being done about it.
"For years, we have been telling people, 'If you continue to drink and drive, we are going to stop you from driving.'"
Stenehjem said that approach has been proven to be ineffective, due to the rampant number of driving under suspension or revocation violations.
"We're not doing a very good job, and the reason is, because we can't do a very good job," he said. "We don't have the resources to follow everybody around to determine if they're continuing to drive, and we know that they are anyway.
"So instead of telling people, 'If you continue to drink and drive, we're going to stop you from driving,' what we need to tell people is, 'If you continue to drink and drive, we're going to stop you from drinking.'
"Because we can do that."
Under the 24-7 Sobriety Program, offenders will show up at a designated location, once in the morning and once in the evening. If found to be in violation, the offender will be immediately taken to jail, and will have a hearing with a judge to determine further outcome.
Stenehjem said South Dakota judges and other state's attorneys thought the program was a terrible idea initially, because jails and courts would be clogged with so many offenders.
What they found, however, was that there was a compliance rate of more than 98 percent.
Although funding was only approved on a limited basis by the 2009 Legislature, North Dakota's program has been in use sans funding since 2008 in the South Central Judicial District. Now, it is scheduled to be enacted statewide by the end of 2011.
Stenehjem said one judge in the Bismarck area was so eager to implement the program that he put Craig Irwin, the North Dakota record-holder with at least 15 DUI convictions, on the program immediately. Irwin was later given the maximum sentence of five years in prison.
"For the eight or 12 weeks he was on the program, he didn't have a drop of alcohol," Stenehjem said. "His wife called me up and said, 'This is the first time in our married life that he has not been drinking, when he wasn't in prison.'"
Imposition of the 24-7 program will be at the discretion of judges in each case, meaning that for even a single alcohol-related violation of DUI, child abuse or domestic violence, the court can require an offender to comply with the program. Stenehjem said, however, that judges will be required to impose it in many situations, such as multiple driving offenses.
Thus, a person convicted of a reduced charge of reckless driving due to a plea agreement who is arrested and convicted of DUI can and likely will in many cases be required to comply with the 24-7 program. Anyone convicted of DUI on or after Jan. 1, 2008, will be affected.
"The program is not designed to be a substitute for the sentence you have to undergo," Stenehjem said. "You still have to face the criminal consequences, and in addition to that, you still have to realize it is not a substitute for a treatment program."
He said that treatment center counselors also like the program, because they know when a person comes to them for treatment, they are sober.
Additionally, Stenehjem said, a patch program is under way that could eventually be used to test for other types of drugs as well.