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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down provisions from the state’s anti-DUI statute that require trial courts to oversee the installation of ignition interlock devices in motor vehicles owned by repeat drunk drivers. The justices in Commonwealth v. Mockaitis affirmed a lower court’s decision that the provisions violate the separation of powers doctrine, but said that their unanimous 5-0 ruling does not prevent the commonwealth’s executive branch from enforcing the remaining portions of the relevant statute on its own. “We are constrained to hold,” Justice Ronald D. Castille wrote in the court’s opinion, “that Act 63′s delegation of executive responsibility to the courts in connection with the restoration of the operating privileges of serial DUI offenders is unconstitutional.” Castille was joined by Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy, and Justices Russell M. Nigro, Sandra Schultz Newman and Thomas Saylor. Former Chief Justices Stephen A. Zappala and John P. Flaherty did not participate in the decision of the case, which was argued on Nov. 14, 2001. Attorneys who have followed the case noted that in the nearly two years since the court first heard Mockaitis, legislative action in Harrisburg has quite nearly resolved the issues the justices addressed. According to the opinion, the Mockaitis case stems from drunk driving charges filed against 19-year-old David Mockaitis, who pled guilty to his second DUI offense in the Cumberland County Common Pleas Court in October 2000. As a repeat DUI offender, Mockaitis was ordered to have ignition interlock devices installed in all the vehicles he owned pursuant to Act 63. Under Act 63, trial courts have the option to order first-time DUI offenders to have ignition interlocks installed in all their vehicles, but must impose interlock installations on all offenders with two or more DUI convictions after a one-year mandatory suspension of their driving privileges. The law mandates that the trial court notify the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation of the offender’s installation order, and that PennDOT then receive certification of installation from the court before reinstating the offender’s operating privileges. After he was sentenced, the opinion said, Mockaitis moved to modify his punishment, arguing that Act 63 was unconstitutional. A three-judge panel from the Cumberland County trial court granted him partial post-sentence relief, deeming the interlock provisions of Act 63 unconstitutional on the grounds of equal protection and separation of powers. Accordingly, the panel vacated the portions of the trial court’s decision pertaining to the interlock installation order. The commonwealth appealed directly to the Supreme Court. The justices in Mockaitis chose to focus on the separation of powers objection to Act 63, reasoning that proper consideration of that issue would preempt disposition of the equal protection question. “The General Assembly cannot constitutionally impose upon the judicial branch powers and obligations exclusively reserved to the legislative or executive branch,” Castille wrote, “nor can it in essence deputize judicial employees to perform duties more properly reserved to another of the co-equal branches of government. But, in terms of the obligation it imposes upon the trial courts to regulate the restoration of driving privileges in this instance, that is exactly what Act 63 entails.” The system as set up by Act 63, the opinion continued, required the court and its officers to serve as agents of PennDOT — and without compensation at that. “It is notable that the General Assembly provided no funding mechanism to enable the judiciary to discharge the executive task it would delegate,” Castille wrote. “Thus, to comply with the act’s directives, trial courts would have to divert existing judicial resources and employees from their ordinary tasks.” For those reasons, the justices severed from Act 63 subsections 7002(b), 7003(1) and 7003(5), the three provisions that require the back-and-forth certifications of interlock installations between the trial courts and PennDOT. “We are satisfied that the offending provisions may be severed without rendering the legislative scheme incapable of execution,” Castille wrote. He added that the responsibility of regulating the interlock installations should rest squarely on PennDOT’s shoulders. The court’s decision comes in the wake of several recent Commonwealth Court rulings that barred PennDOT from imposing interlock installation when the trial court had failed to do so. In the latest such case, McGrory v. Commonwealth, the court held that PennDOT was not allowed to impose interlocks on an eight-time repeat DUI offender after a Bucks County judge chose not to order installation. Lee Derr, counsel to State Sen. Jane Clare Orie, R-Allegheny, said that installation of ignition interlock devices on all vehicles of repeat DUI offenders is a standard that the federal government pushes states to meet. Castille noted in the opinion that Act 63 was adopted as a result of a 1998 initiative that withheld federal highway funds from states that did not enact repeat intoxicated driver laws. Derr said that Orie’s office was the main author of the interlock provision in a recently passed bill that will revamp Pennsylvania’s drunk driving laws when it goes into effect on Feb. 1, 2004. Derr said that Senate Bill 8, signed by the governor on Sept. 30 to go into effect as Act 25 of 2003, maintains the previous interlock installation standards but leaves the trial courts out of regulating the system. “The problems that the court addressed in Mockaitis have already been resolved by this new legislation,” Derr said. He added that the new interlock provision provides for exemptions relating to economic hardship and employment. PennDOT officials directed questions about the decision to the Attorney General’s Office. “Our attorneys are currently reviewing the court’s decision to determine the implications of the ruling and how it will affect PennDOT,” AG spokesman Sean Connolly said. “We will be discussing this ruling with PennDOT officials in the very near future.” Stuart B. Suss of the Attorney General’s Office in Norristown was counsel of record in Mockaitis. Mockaitis’ counsel, Timothy L. Clawges of the Cumberland County Public Defender’s Office, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

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