Douglas County prosecutors on Friday were preparing to handle an influx of drunken-driving cases normally prosecuted in municipal courts as Lawrence, Baldwin City and Eudora were still researching the effects of the state’s new DUI law.
The law passed overwhelmingly last session, and legislators touted its steeper fines and the requirement of ignition interlock devices for all first-time offenders. But Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said Friday — as the new law took effect at midnight — it appeared cities would need to pass new ordinances to be able to prosecute DUI cases in municipal court and adopt the same penalties the state now has.
“It will take at bare minimum 30 days to get this rectified,” Branson said.
Under Kansas law, cities can prosecute first- and second-offense DUI cases that occur in their jurisdiction in their own municipal courts as long as the penalties are not less severe than the state law. For traffic laws, most cities adopt a standard traffic offense code produced by the Kansas League of Municipalities, and Branson said that now cities likely have DUI penalties less severe than the state.
“If ordinances aren’t substantially in compliance with the state statute, they’re no good, and that’s where we find ourselves,” Branson said.
He said the cities could go through a process to change their ordinances, but with publishing requirements on new ordinances that could take up to a month. So his office was preparing to file charges in all new DUI cases in Douglas County District Court.
Branson said Baldwin City and Eudora likely only produce about a dozen cases per month, but in Lawrence that could mean a dozen or so cases per week that would be filed and processed in district court creating an increased workload for prosecutors and court staffers.
Chad Sublet, a city staff attorney, said Friday that city leaders were still reviewing information about the effect of the new law.
State Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, who was an architect of the new law, said he believed cities still had authority to prosecute DUI cases in municipal court with the penalties under the new law without passing a new ordinance.
“I think the court probably has that jurisdiction to go ahead and do that,” Owens said. “They may disagree with me, and if they chose to disagree, that is a defensible position as well.”
Owens did defend the new law saying it would have a significant effect on targeting DUI offenders, but he also acknowledged there were some “unintended consequences” and “glitches” that likely would need to be addressed.
He said there is also a disagreement about whether municipal courts have to pay $250 collected in each DUI case to the state’s community corrections department. The funding was needed to help pay for the cost of enforcing penalties on repeat DUI offenders, Owens said, but the way the law, as it was drafted, only mentions district courts as being responsible for collecting the $250 payment in each case.
“There are just some things that fell through the cracks that we need to fix,” Owens said. “And we will be addressing that from the get-go next session.”
The next session of the Kansas Legislature begins in January 2012.