New D.U.I. Laws Go into Effect
Mississippi’s new D.U.I. laws are geared toward helping D.U.I. offenders learn from their mistakes, but prosecutors worry the new laws will make it difficult to put repeat offenders behind bars. Under the new law, it takes four misdemeanor D.U.I. charges for a driver to be convicted of a felony, and even then, jail time has been reduced.
Tony Lawrence, Jackson County District Attorney, says, "They could have eight D.U.I.s, the most we could ever give them is five years now, and prosecutors think that’s a bad message to send, that those who continuously show us that they’re going to drink and drive and make our streets unsafe, that we ought to be able to punish them more."
A first time offender is required to take an alcohol education program and their license is automatically suspended, but under the new law that went into effect Wednesday, that person can get driving privileges back by installing an ignition interlock device. Glenn Roe of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department says, "We’re going to be looking for the changes in the interlock system. Of course we’re going to have to see how the Highway Patrol is going to give us notification on the driver’s license so we know the individual is supposed to have the interlock system in their vehicle."
Also under the new D.U.I. laws, repeat offenders may find that they need to blow into an interlock breathalyzer system before they start their car. Another element of the law is that first time offenders can have their record expunged if they maintain a clean record for five years. This is meant to keep one time mistakes from haunting drivers who learn from their D.U.I. charge.
Law enforcement is focused on training officers on the new laws. Kathlyn Van Buskirk, Jackson County Assistant District Attorney, says, "We’re going to have people sent across the nation for training, and we’re hoping to have people flown in and to give the training that we feel will help impact our streets."
Buskirk is part of the newly formed Coast-wide D.U.I. task force and is hoping to utilize the new D.U.I. laws to keep our roads safe. Police officers News 25 spoke with Wednesday say they are concerned with the interlock system as there will need to be a way for officers to know who is supposed to have the system in their car.
While there are still kinks to be worked out, legislators hope the news laws will ultimately fight D.U.I.s in a smarter and safer way.