Tougher punishments for DUI offenders involved in crashes eyed

Tougher punishments for DUI offenders involved in crashes eyed (Image 1)

A group of Tennessee prosecutors who have been studying the state's DUI statues for more than six years plan to present recommended revisions to state laws to Governor Bill Haslam Thursday.

The presentation will be part of the governor's Public Safety Action Forum. During the forum, law enforcement officers, attorneys, lawmakers and others will discuss ways to improve public safety.

In the area of drunk driving, the Tennessee Attorneys General Conference will present a new revised DUI law, according to Tom Kimball. Kimball is an assistant district attorney and Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor.

“The revisions do not change the substance of the law, but make it more user friendly,” he said. “It takes the day to day stuff for use by police, attorneys and judges and moves it to the front of the DUI chapter.”

Kimball said the changes also eliminate some conflicting parts of the DUI statute that arose when new provisions were added to the existing law.

“Over the last 25 to 30 years what would happen is something new would be added without taking out something old,” he said. “That would create some conflict in the court system that would bog down cases in the pipeline.”

That backlog has led to DUI defendants spending several months free on bond waiting for the disposition of their cases.

In some instances, that means devices like the interlock system or revoking a license, do not take place for a while.

In recent weeks, DUI offenders out on bond have been re-arrested for other DUIs before their previous case was adjudicated.

Jonathan Greene, 26, of Mt. Juliet was charged November 19 for his DUI third offense. He was subsequently charged with a probation violation on December 3.

In August of 2012, Greene was arrested for his DUI second offense in Nashville. That case is pending and set for trial February 12, 2013.

According to Wilson and Davidson County courts, Greene has been arrested at least once every month since June with the exception of July for alcohol or drug related charges.

In other cases, defendants out on bond have killed people.

Greg Powers faces a vehicular homicide charge for a fatal head-on collision that claimed the life of Virginia resident Thomas Schlapman, on November 21.

Powers was free on bond following a DUI arrest in connection with allegedly trying to run over a 57-year-old bartender at The Pond on July 20 after he was told to leave the facility because he was too impaired.

In October, Barbara Mayfield was sentenced to 50 years in prison for a July 2011 DUI crash that killed four-year old Alton “Brant” Barrett and his grandfather, 69-year-old James Barrett.

The wreck left a third person, Ronnie Boyd, paralyzed.

Mayfield was free on bond for a separate DUI arrest at the time of the wreck.

Prior to her arrest, Mayfield had been arrested a dozen times on drinking charges. The arrest was her third DUI.

Advocates for stricter DUI laws have pointed to cases like Powers' and Mayfield's to explain why Tennessee's laws should be tougher.

Newly-elected Tennessee Representative William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) is a former Sumner Assistant District Attorneys General who prosecuted DUI offenses.

He plans to introduce legislation that targets multiple DUI offenders.

“We currently have vehicular homicide where if a repeat DUI offender strikes someone and kills them the penalty is more severe than if they had never been charged with a DUI before,” he said. “Many of these DUI offenders who continue to drink and drive will crash into someone and hurt them with serious bodily injury yet the penalty does not increase even though they have prior DUIs.”

Representative Lamberth wants to have aggravated vehicular assault to Tennessee's laws. It would allow for enhanced sentencing for people who have previous DUIs and cause a serious injury wreck.

The charge would also be more serious felony that vehicular assault.

“That is the only thing that is going to deter many of these repeat offenders from re offending is to lock them up as long as possible and to keep them off of our roads because they have shown they will not control the behavior so we have to do it for them,” he said.

The governor's Public Safety Forum begins at 10 a.m. at the Tennessee Towers in the Tennessee Room on the third floor.

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