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Topic focus: drunk driving laws in Arkansas

Arkansas lawmakers are taking a fresh look at a key provision in state law that addresses drunk driving. Because there is a potential for legal change regarding criminal charging in this legal area, we pass along key details regarding current developments to our readers.

Current state law provides that any motorist who is stopped in Arkansas and subsequently charged with drunk driving must make a simple either-or choice.

Namely, that is this: Either fight the DWI charge in court or plead guilty to it. To cite the seemingly ubiquitous phrase regarding maneuverability, there is no "wiggle room" for negotiation.

Now that could change. If ultimately enacted, a bill that is working its way through the state Senate would enable state prosecutors to reduce drunk driving charges in select instances.

Although many legislators obviously see a need to adjust existing law, approval for the bill is, understandably, not unanimous.

One central critic is the advocacy group MADD, which objects on principle to the idea that a person charged with drunk driving should ever be allowed to plead to a lesser charge.

Notwithstanding MADD's view, though, many state lawmakers obviously think otherwise. The bill was recently endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There might be myriad reasons why a prosecutor might want to seek reduced charges in a given case, including perceived weaknesses wrought by a questionable stop, improper police behavior and faulty testing equipment.

We will keep readers advised of the bill's future movement. If the legislation survives a full vote count in the Senate, it will proceed to the governor's office for consideration.

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