New laws targeting repeat DUI offenders take effect today

Published 11:19 am Friday, July 1, 2016

New Laws

More than 80 new laws go into effect in Tennessee today, and several of them are geared toward improving the safety of residents by addressing the problem of impaired drivers on the roads.
The new laws focus on strengthening penalties for the repeat offenders, ensuring a criminal history background check is conducted to detect prior driving under the influence arrests, and requiring judges order ignition interlock devices for drunk drivers unless a reason can be shown otherwise.
State Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) introduced legislation to stiffen the penalties for what he deemed the “worst” offenders. The new law elevates a DUI offense for those convicted six or more times from the current level of a “Class E” felony to a “Class C” felony.
The change in classification more than doubles the amount of time served by an offender convicted under the new law. In addition, the new law also requires prior convictions for an alcohol-related offense — including those committed out-of-state — be counted as prior convictions, regardless of when they were committed.
“Very often when a fatal accident occurs caused by a drunk driver, it’s a multiple offender,” McNally said. “This new law raises the penalties significantly to keep the most dangerous offenders who drink, drive and kill off Tennessee roads.”
Another new law taking affect today stems from a bill by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) which also deals with the subject of repeat offenders.
Under the new law, when a person is arrested for a DUI, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide, their fingerprints must be taken and submitted to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation within five days. If the offender is then convicted of one of those alcohol related offenses, their fingerprints must be submitted to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) within seven days.
Norris’ legislation was drafted in response to a tragic crash in Mississippi involving the deaths of two Shelby County, Tenn., students by a driver who carried five convictions of first offense DUI and was out on bond for his sixth DUI. Norris said records reveal three counties and one municipality in Mississippi failed to inform the Mississippi Department of Public Safety about the convictions so it could be logged into the NCIC database, which is accessible by law enforcement officers to check the criminal backgrounds of arrestees.
“This tragedy brought to our attention, as well as Mississippi’s, the need to have the appropriate records logged in and available so that multiple DUI offenders do not fall through the cracks and are accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” said Leader Norris. “These drivers pose a serious threat to public safety.”
A separate measure sponsored by Norris that becomes effective on Friday requires a criminal history background search upon arrest to determine prior arrests for DUI vehicular assault, vehicular homicide and aggravated vehicular homicide.
Another law hitting the books today will require judges to order all convicted DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle unless the judge provides a finding of fact justifying not ordering the device.
An ignition interlock device serves as a breathalyzer for a person’s vehicle. In order to start the vehicle, the person must blow into a mouthpiece on the device. If the person’s breath registers the presence alcohol above an accepted level the vehicle will not start.
While state law already provides mandates for the use of interlock devices, according to State Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), the sponsor of the bill, there has only been a 15 to 20 percent compliance rate because the old law required judges to provide a reason for why the device should be installed. Stevens bill reverses that restriction and instead requires judges to provide a reason for not ordering the device installed.
“Studies have shown that states that have enacted this type of legislation have been very successful and reduced DUI fatalities by up to 50 percent,” Stevens said. “If we see similar results in Tennessee, it would mean saving over 100 lives per year. This should help Tennessee substantially in our efforts to get drunk drivers off our streets.”

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