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IDAHO’S DUI LAW RAISES FROTH OF PROTEST

SHARE IDAHO’S DUI LAW RAISES FROTH OF PROTEST

Five months from now, when he turns 21, Chad Christopher Kepner can down a beer and drive a car without worrying.

But now, Kepner faces drunken-driving charges, the result, he says, of one beer - and stiff new laws targeting underage drinkers.Until July 1, drivers had to blow a .10 on a breathalyzer to be considered "under the influence." But the 1994 Legislature reduced that level for minors to .02 - for some, that is less than one beer.

Kepner plans to challenge his misdemeanor citation in court Dec. 6. He will argue that he is not guilty and that the law is "unfair."

It is also unconstitutional, students at the University of Idaho College of Law say. They will fight the law on behalf of 19-year-old Matthew Masuda, a University of Idaho student facing similar charges.

Kepner says he had never heard of the law until Nov. 21, when police stopped him, checked his blood-alcohol level, then took him to jail.

The 20-year-old Twin Falls resident questions why he was pulled over. Kepner's citation does not explain why he was stopped but notes his .04 blood-alcohol content. Police found a 12-pack of Bud-weiser in Kepner's 1993 Mazda - with two bottles missing. Kepner may lose his license and get a DUI.

"You can get a .02 off of just cough syrup. All I had was one beer, and I blew a .04," Kepner said.

Supporters say it sends a "zero tolerance" message to minors who drink and drive. Opponents say the law is too strict - and arbitrarily sets the DUI level for minors far below that of adults.

The Constitution guarantees Americans "equal protection" under the law, and prohibits the state from discriminating against a group or class of people without good cause. The courts closely scrutinize laws that discriminate due to race or gender, but are less concerned about laws that restrict the rights of young people.

If the Legislature tackles a legitimate problem - drunken-driving accidents and fatalities - and has a rational basis for the law, then the courts are likely to affirm the law.

Prosecutors can argue that since young drivers are involved in a disproportionate number of drunk-driving accidents, it is rational to hold them to a tougher standard.

James Macdonald, a constitutional law professor at the University of Idaho, is not wild about the .02 limit. He said a constitutional attack is likely to falter. The courts will not determine if the law is "fair."

The new law is bad news for Kepner, but it is a welcome change for anti-drunk-driving activists.

Alcohol-related accidents claim about 20 victims in the Magic Valley each year. Laws like this can lower those numbers, supporters say.

Marilyn Hempleman, a Mother Against Drunk Driving state board member who lost a daughter in an alcohol-related accident, said the law sends the right message.