Incomplete DUI records reporting may allow many repeat offenders in Tennessee to avoid proper punishment, which could leave innocent drivers at risk.
In spite of state laws and safety campaigns, drunk driving remains a deadly epidemic in Memphis and other parts of Tennessee. In 2013 alone, 277 people lost their lives in alcohol-related accidents that occurred throughout the state, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In 2014, drunk drivers caused over 6,600 crashes, according to data from the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
The sanctions that follow a DUI arrest and conviction are intended to deter drunk driving and therefore reduce these needless accidents. Unfortunately, a new report indicates that many repeat offenders may not receive appropriate punishment due to local issues with DUI records reporting.
Repeat offenders improperly charged
WMC News explains that law enforcement authorities can use state or national reporting systems to determine whether a DUI offender has any prior convictions. However, 18 counties in Tennessee, including Crockett and Haywood counties, do not report DUI records to these central databases. Consequently, people who have been convicted of DUI offenses in these counties might not be charged as repeat offenders when they are arrested in other counties.
As a result, these dangerous drivers may avoid penalties that could help prevent future offenses. In Tennessee, people convicted of second-time or higher DUI charges face significantly greater fines, license suspension periods and jail time than first-time offenders. Additionally, people who are convicted of DUI twice in five years are required to install ignition interlock devices. In the absence of these sanctions, repeat offenders may be likelier to continue endangering others.
A deadly DUI accident that took place in another state reveals the risks that this lack of reporting can create. The man who caused the accident had been arrested five times for DUI, but one municipality and three counties did not report the man’s eventual convictions. Consequently, the man was charged as a first-time offender in each case, rather than facing escalating penalties that might have helped prevent the fatal accident.
Holding DUI offenders accountable
Safety advocates have suggested a few legal changes that could ensure that these repeat offenders are appropriately punished and deterred from future recidivism. These measures include:
• Requiring all municipalities and counties to report DUI convictions to a central database. Financial support for counties that struggle to fund DUI records integration could also improve reporting.
• Increasing the number of years that authorities may review when determining whether a person is a repeat DUI offender. At present, Tennessee law only lets authorities consider convictions that occurred during the 10 years before the most recent offense.
• Requiring felony charges the first time that a convicted drunk driver offends again. Currently, a fourth-time DUI conviction is an automatic felony in Tennessee.
Unfortunately, until changes such as these are implemented, drunk driving accidents that involve repeat offenders may remain a substantial problem in Tennessee. MADD estimates that repeat offenders are responsible for about one-third of all DUI arrests, crashes, and fatalities. This figure suggests that these drivers cause over 2,000 accidents in Tennessee each year.
The victims of these unnecessary accidents may have recourse if they can show that the accident occurred primarily because of the other driver’s negligence. A car accident attorney may be able to provide additional information regarding the relevant legal standards, the claims process and the compensation that may be available.