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The Ignition Interlock Device Act does not violate equal protection rights, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled in a case of first impression. “We find that it is entirely rational that the statute in question here directs that interlock devices be installed in those vehicles over which the offender possesses an ownership interest,” Judge John G. Brosky wrote for the court in Commonwealth v. Etheredge. Judges Joseph A. Hudock and Peter Paul Olszewski joined in the unanimous decision. In May 2000, Sandra Etheredge was stopped by Washington Township police at a sobriety checkpoint. Her blood alcohol content was determined to be .157, and she was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Etheredge was found guilty at a nonjury trial. Among other penalties, she was ordered to comply with Act 63-2000, which requires the installation of an ignition interlock device that prevents a vehicle from being started or operated unless the driver first provides a breath sample indicating that the driver has a BAC of less than .025 percent. In part, Act 63 reads: “Where a person has been convicted of a second or subsequent violation … the court shall order the installation of an approved ignition interlock device on each motor vehicle owned by the person. … During the year immediately following restoration of the person’s operating privilege and thereafter until the person obtains an unrestricted license, the person shall not operate any motor vehicle on a highway within this commonwealth unless the motor vehicle is equipped with an approved interlock system.” On appeal, Etheredge argued that evidence was illegally obtained during the roadblock because the roadblock was not established according to the law, and requiring her to install an interlock device in accordance with Act 63 was unconstitutional. The Franklin County Common Pleas Court disagreed on both points, and the Superior Court affirmed. After determining that the sobriety checkpoint was in compliance with the law, the Superior Court moved on to Etheredge’s claim that the Ignition Interlock Device Act is unconstitutional. Etheredge claimed that the law violated her rights to equal protection because it requires only vehicle owners to install the mechanism. She also claimed that the law violated her right to due process. The court said that the appropriate test for analyzing a regulation of one’s operating privileges is the rational basis standard. “In applying the rational basis test, we must first determine whether the statute in question seeks to promote any legitimate state interest or public value. If so, we must next determine whether the classification adopted in the legislation is reasonably related to accomplishing that articulated state interest or interests,” the court said. With regard to the first part of the test, the court said, “clearly, the statute requiring the installation of ignition interlock systems for persons convicted of DUI clearly seeks to promote the compelling interest of protecting our citizens, and the citizens of our sister states, from the dangers posed by Pennsylvania-licensed intoxicated drivers.” Turning to the second part of the test, the court said Etheredge argued that “a classification which treats persons differently based upon their ownership of motor vehicles is inappropriate.” The Superior Court rejected this argument, holding that Act 63′s classification of vehicle owners was rational. “We believe requiring this classification of DUI offenders to install ignition interlock devices into cars they own is undoubtedly reasonably related to accomplishing the objective here, which is to promote public safety by keeping intoxicated drivers off the roads,” Brosky wrote. The court noted that the offender is most likely to drive a vehicle that he owns. Also, the court said, 18 Pa. C.S. Section 7514 prohibits the offender from borrowing a vehicle during the period of license restriction. “In light of that prohibition, it is not irrational, nor is it unconstitutional for this statutory scheme to treat borrowed vehicles differently from owned vehicles. … This statute does not violate the equal protection clause of either our federal or state constitution,” Brosky said. The court also dismissed Etheredge’s argument that the statute does not afford her procedural due process, simply saying it was not persuaded by her claim.

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