Mothers Against Drunk Driving wants state lawmakers to close a loophole in a DUI law that allows some DUI offenders to wipe the slate clean while serving time in prison.
In Tennessee, DUI convictions can be used to enhance penalties for 10 years. However, after 10 years has passed, a judge cannot consider former DUIs during sentencing in most cases.
MADD wants to lift that 10-year look-back period so DUI offenses older than 10 years can be considered if a person is convicted of subsequent DUIs.
“It is one thing for someone to have a clean 10-year history out on the road showing they are driving safely,” MADD Executive Director Flint Clouse said. “It is quite different if they have been locked up for those 10 years.”
The case of Danny Ross Jr. is an example of how the law allows some offenders to avoid harsher penalties.
Ross was convicted of killing 15-year-old Keri Scheib, her boyfriend Connor Blake Tidwell and his mother Pamela Tidwell in 1993. He was drunk.
Ross served 12 years in prison for vehicular homicide.
When Ross got out of prison, he was arrested again for DUI, but because his prior DUI offense was older than 10 years, he was subsequently charged with DUI, first offense.
“They are getting into trouble immediately after their release, yet when they go to court because they have been in prison for 10 years, that history doesn't count against them,” Clouse said.
Between 2007 and 2012, Ross was convicted of four DUIs.
He is in prison serving a six-year sentence for the most recent DUI conviction. Because of the 10-year cap, he was convicted of DUI fourth offense, though it's actually his sixth conviction.
Scheib's family has long advocated for changing the 10-year statute of limitation.
“Their death doesn't mean anything after 10 years,” Scheib's father Larry Scheib said by phone Tuesday. “If it was a murder case, it lasts forever, but why are their lives extinguished after 10 years?”
He continued, “Their lives are washed and thrown away after 10 years, but to the family it means something forever.”
Scheib said he worries about public safety after Ross is released from prison.
The Tennessee General Assembly is not in session. When lawmakers return to the capitol, MADD and the Scheib family plan to be there lobbying to remove the 10 year limit on DUI convictions.
- Dec. 12, 2012: Repeat DUI offender will spend holidays in jail
- Nov. 27, 2012: MADD: Stiffer DUI penalties needed in Tenn.
- Nov. 15, 2012: Driver responsible for fatal '93 crash charged again with DUI