Archive for Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Stiffer DUI penalties sought

Drunken drivers would face more jail time under proposal

February 20, 2001


— In Kansas, a lot more drunken drivers soon may be spending a lot more time in jail.

A bill heard by a Senate subcommittee Monday calls for making second-time offenders spend at least 10 days in jail.

Now, many second-time offenders spend only a weekend behind bars.

Third-time offenders would have to spend at least 120 days in jail, while fourth- and fifth-time offenders would be looking at a mandatory 15 months at a state prison.

Currently, judges have the option of sentencing third-, fourth- and fifth-time offenders to between 48 hours and one year in jail.

The proposed changes also would mandate revocation of a driver's license after a fifth DUI conviction.

"It's our position that compared to some other states, Kansas' laws are not as tough as they could be," said Tiffany Ball, spokeswoman for Kansas Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall.

Senate Bill 215 also is backed by the Kansas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"We firmly believe in tougher penalties for repeat offenders," said MADD executive director Max Sutherland.

It's unclear how many drunken drivers are repeat offenders.

According to the latest state records, 3,273 drunken drivers were involved in injury or noninjury accidents in 1999.

A recent survey by the state Department of Revenue found one Kansas driver known to have nine DUI convictions; eight have eight convictions; 10 have seven. Of these 19 drivers, three are known to live in northeast Kansas, one each in Lecompton, Ottawa and Leavenworth.

The names of the repeat offenders were not available Monday, but the Journal-World has a request pending for the information under the state's open records law.

The survey did not document the number of drivers with two-to-five DUI convictions.

Similar calls for tougher DUI penalties died in the 1999 and 2000 legislative sessions because of fears of adding inmates to an overcrowded prison system.

But this year, the state Department of Corrections is projecting a slight decrease in inmates during the next two years, followed by gradual increases.

"This (bill) would have on impact of, we're told, between 15-to-150 beds a year," KDOC spokesman Bill Miskell said. "But we also know that these are going to be beds that would turn over pretty regularly."

Sen. Ed Pugh, R-Wamego, a lawyer and chairman of the subcommittee hearing the bill, said he wants to sort through the issues raised by harsher penalties.

"I'm not against punishing drunk drivers, but I'm wondering how much of this we really need? How are these sentences being handled now? How many of these fourth- and fifth-time offenders are getting 48 hours in jail?" Pugh said.

"I want to know that because the judges I'm familiar with are giving them a lot more than 48 hours. Maybe we ought to be doing more to enforce the laws that are already on the books," Pugh said.

He declined to predict the bill's chances for passage this year.

Douglas County Sheriff Rick Trapp said he'll support whatever penalties get through the legislative process.

"We'll deal with it the best way we can," he said, referring to possible overcrowding at the county jail. "But I'm supportive of stiffer penalties. Drunk driving is a problem here in Douglas County."

On a typical weekend, Trapp said his deputies make four or five DUI arrests.

Beside the longer sentences, Senate Bill 215 would:

Impose stiffer fines.

Require offenders to complete a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program, rather than sitting through a short drunken driver's course.

Revoke licenses for two, three and 10 years, respectively, for second-, third- and fourth-time offenders who refuse to take a blood-alcohol test. Fifth-time offenders' licenses would be permanently revoked.

Limit DUI diversions to one per person, per lifetime.

Add 30 days in jail to the sentences of those with children in their vehicle at the time of their arrest.

After a second DUI conviction, require all offenders to install ignition interlock devices on their vehicles, if their blood-alcohol content exceeded .15 percent.

Currently, interlock devices are not required if an offender goes five years between convictions.

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