The Ignition Interlock Device: Unusual Punishment?

Posted by James Ferguson | Aug 01, 2018 | 0 Comments

In Mississippi, persons convicted of a third DUI offense are required to have an interlock ignition device installed in their car. This device serves as a deterrence and punishment for the offender. The car will not start unless the driver blows into the device. The device is calibrated to detect traces of alcohol in the driver's system. The car is freed up to start when the device returns a zero reading of alcohol. Many who encounter the interlock device are stunned that such a device exists. With that, it is an area worth exploring. Does the installment of the interlock device restrict the liberty and movement of the individual in such a way that infringes on basic rights?

The Ignition Interlock Device

It is called an ignition interlock device or breath alcohol ignition interlock device. At the most basic level, the device functions as a normal Breathalyzer. After a person blows into the mouthpiece, the device will measure the alcohol in a person's body. If the calculated amount is over the amount that is programed into the device, the device will lock the vehicle's ignition. The person has another opportunity to start the vehicle at a later time. Not only must the person complete the test to start the car, but also, the device may require testing while the car is in motion. At random times, when the car is in motion, the device may alert the driver to test his or her alcohol level. If alcohol is detected, some devices will cause the car's lights to flash and the horn to sound. This is to alert the driver to park the car and retest at a later time. This function is to ensure that the driver did not consume alcohol after the initial test. Mississippi is one of 42 states that have instituted the ignition interlock system for DUI offenders.

How Does the Eighth Amendment Apply?

The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from imposing excessive bails, fines, and cruel and unusual punishment on citizens. The cruel and unusual clause in the Eighth Amendment applies to all states. According to legal jurisprudence, cruel and unusual punishment is defined as punishment that is in excess of the crime committed. So the question here is whether the installation of an ignition interlock system that limits the liberty of an individual and alters the function of a piece of personal property is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

The Policy Behind the Ignition Interlock Device

The answer here is a resounding ‘no.' Punishment for DUI offenses are administered in a variety of ways. They include fines, jail time, community service, suspension of licenses, etc. All these forms of punishment are either rehabilitative or carry a deterrent factor. The interlock device serves to deter the driver from driving under the influence, but it will also inevitably restrict alcohol intake. In Furman v. Georgia, the court determined that a form of punishment that is inflicted in a wholly arbitrary fashion, clearly and totally rejected throughout society, and patently unnecessary amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The utilization of the ignition interlock system fails the cruel and unusual test in that it does not violate the Eighth Amendment. Although possibly embarrassing for drivers who have passengers or children, the penalty is not degrading in the true sense of the word. Furthermore, society at large is in support of deterring drunk driving and they are in support of restricting repeat offenders. Lastly, the punishment is necessary given the severity of the offense and the possibility for fatalities.

Your DUI Attorney

Attorney James Robert Ferguson is a seasoned DUI defense attorney with years of experience fighting alcohol DUI cases. If you were ordered to have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle and you have questions, call us now. Attorney Ferguson provides aggressive legal representation for individuals just like you. Schedule your case assessment today.

See related blog posts:
Oh, No! I Just had a False Positive on My Ignition Interlock Device!
Mississippi DUI Penalties

About the Author

James Ferguson

I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. During college, I studied at East Tennessee State University, where I received a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice, which I then followed up with a Master's in Criminology from the University of Memphis. Before beginning my legal career, I worked as a Project Coordinator at the University of Memphis, where I assisted in training law enforcement officers in the Memphis Model of Crisis Intervention Training. The purpose of the project was to provide officers with the tools to deal with citizens in a state of mental crisis. I then went on to study law at the Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson. During law school, I clerked with Victor W. Carmody, Jr., the lawyer who wrote the book on DUI law in Mississippi. I am currently licensed to practice law in both Tennessee and Mississippi, and spend a majority of my time traveling the highways and biways of Mississippi defending those who have been charged with a DUI.


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