A dispute arose Monday over how far in the past prior DUI convictions should be considered to count toward enhancing a new DUI sentence.
During a meeting of the Kansas DUI Commission, prosecutors said they want a “lifetime look back” for repeat offenders.
Karen Wittman, Kansas Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor and an assistant attorney general, said it shouldn’t matter if a person arrested for DUI has a prior conviction from the 1970s. “It’s your criminal history,” she said and the person should be treated as a repeat offender, the same as if he or she had been convicted of burglary.
But some commission members said using decades-old DUI offenses posed problems.
Sometimes the records from those offenses are inadequate, or inconsistent from county to county, they said.
Even some current-day records lack the documentation needed to prove prior convictions, several commissioners said.
In court records, failure to check one box can make it difficult for a prosecutor to establish a prior conviction was made properly, officials said.
“You’ve got a painful history of less than adequate reporting,” said Johnson County State District Court Judge Peter Ruddick.
Steve Montgomery, of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said coordinating all the information from the various agencies involved in DUI cases could be done, but it would be a big undertaking. “The devil does show up in the details in that kind of project,” he said.
And sometimes old convictions were made back in a time when DUI was little more than a traffic ticket, and offenders believed they could expunge those convictions from their records if they weren’t arrested for several years.
Attorney Douglas Wells said DUI shouldn’t be considered like some other criminal offenses.
“At some point you need to permit a person to rehabilitate themselves and part of their rehabilitation is to rehabilitate their record,” he said.
The commission is expected to issue a preliminary report on Kansas DUI laws before the Legislature starts its 2010 session in January, and then a final report in 2011.
Commission Chairman, state Sen. Thomas “Tim” Owens, R-Overland Park, said changing the DUI laws will require a comprehensive review. “It’s going to be a lengthy inquiry,” he said.