WASHINGTON — Montgomery County police chief Tom Manger says the amended version of the drunken driving bill named for his officer has been weakened, and some aspects would be unenforceable.
“I’m happy that a bill got out of the House, because that hasn’t happened for years, but if the bill’s watered down to the point where it’s not really strengthening the DUI laws in the state of Maryland, then it’s not what we need, and it’s not what we want,” Manger tells WTOP.
Last Thursday, Maryland’s House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved “Noah’s Law,” named for Montgomery County officer Noah Leotta, who was struck and killed by a repeat drunk driver while conducting a traffic stop as part of drunken-driving task force in December 2015.
Manger is concerned about the amendments to the bill.
“Some of the penalties that we had hoped to see expanded — for vehicular homicide and homicide by DUI — have not changed,” Manger says.
In addition, Manger says amended language would create a new drunken driving offense “that frankly would be so difficult to convict someone of, that I wonder about it’s real value.”
Manger, who is waiting to see a version of the bill which includes the amendments, says the new offense would require proving gross negligence.
“I will tell you, in the case of Noah Leotta’s death, I’m not sure we would meet that standard,” he says.
Luis Gustavo Reluzco, 47, has been indicted on two charges in Leotta’s death: vehicular manslaughter and failure to move over or slow down as he approached an emergency vehicle. He’s being held on $250,000 bond.
“Yes, the individual was drunk. Yes, he killed someone, but would we be able to prove gross negligence,” Manger wondered aloud.
He says Reluzco was not operating his vehicle at a high rate of speed, but failed to make a safe lane change.
“Whether or not that constitutes gross negligence is obviously an issue for the court, but typically, in order to prove gross negligence you have someone operating a vehicle at a high rate of speed or really in a reckless manner,” Manger says.
Manger is set to testify Thursday morning before the Senate’s Judiciary Proceedings Committee, as it considers its “Noah’s Law” companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery County.
Manger says he intends to ask the Senate committee to restore the bill to its original strength.
“Some people did take little bites out of the legislation and paste some sticky notes all over it, so I think we do have to clean it up a little over on the Senate side, which I think we’ll be able to do,” Raskin tells WTOP of Manger’s concerns.
Raskin remains confident stronger drunken driving legislation, including requiring all drunk drivers to install ignition locks, can be enacted within the next month.