Billboards statewide proclaim that Montana is getting tough on driving under the influence, particularly among youth, but in the Flathead it’s beginning to look like anti-drinking-and-driving efforts might better be targeted toward a different audience: government lawyers.
On Saturday, Jan. 15, Columbia Falls City Attorney Eric Kaplan was arrested by the Montana Highway Patrol and charged with DUI after his vehicle swerved off the road. Though Kaplan apologized for his behavior to the Columbia Falls City Council, he pleaded not guilty to the DUI charge and a hearing is scheduled for May 3. Kaplan was released shortly after his arrest to Columbia Falls Police Chief Dave Perry—an arrangement Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont says occurs in rare cases when a responsible driver is available.
Then, on Friday, Feb. 25, Flathead County Deputy Attorney Lori Adams was picked up by the Montana Highway Patrol on a DUI violation after her vehicle rolled over. Adams, who wasn’t hurt, served no jail time after her March 7 conviction, according to Chief Detention Officer Dave Hutton and Flathead County Justice Court records.
Kaplan declined to discuss the matter on the record, and Adams did not return messages left at her office.
Montana law requires a mandatory minimum of 24 consecutive jail hours for first-time DUI offenders, but Adams avoided that penalty due to a loophole in Montana’s DUI laws known as a per se DUI. The author of the state’s DUI manual, Sidney Judge Greg Mohr, explains that a per se DUI allows a driver to plead no contest to the DUI charge in exchange for slack from prosecutors, such as elimination of the jail requirement. Mohr says per se DUI cases are typically agreed to when the prosecution feels it has a weakness in its case, such as law enforcement not having read a suspect his or her rights on time.
In cases like Adams’, however, which involve crashes, Mohr says the offer of a per seDUI from prosecutors “would be rare.”
In other words, if you plan on hitting the road after a couple beers, don’t count on getting the kid glove treatment—unless you happen to be a government lawyer.