When it comes to driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, drivers having a drink may ask themselves “how many is too many?” How many drinks can a driver consume, and how long do they have to wait before they are safe to drive? However, for the extreme subset of drivers with prior convictions for drunk driving, the same question could be proposed, “how many DUIs is too many DUIs?”
A couple of recent DUI arrests have exposed some problems with drivers convicted of many multiple DUIs, and the frustration in the local communities where these drivers continue to take to the road. In some cases, the problem is that drivers with revoked or suspended licenses continue to drive. In other cases, there is no felony DUI law for multiple offenders, so each DUI can only be tried as a misdemeanor.
A man in Alabama was recently arrested for his 25th DUI. He has 24 prior DUI convictions, and has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to his latest DUI charge. David Louis Layne, 55, is facing felony DUI and third-degree assault after his latest arrest in Shelby County, Alabama. He was involved in a two-vehicle accident which injured an occupant of the other car, and remains in jail on a $101,000 bond.
The prosecutor on the case requested the high bond based on the driver's numerous previous convictions. Shelby County District Attorney Jill Lee filed documents stating Layne “has at least twenty four previous DUI convictions,” and that he “is a danger to the public at large.” His last DUI in 2013 was charged as a felony, however as part of a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI resulting in one year in jail.
In other states, the issue under scrutiny is the way in which different states treat multiple DUIs. There is a national standard for the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of 0.08 percent, as here in Washington state. But there is no common national standard for how to treat multiple DUIs. In Washington, having a fifth DUI within a 10 year period will be treated as a felony DUI. Yet 5 states and the District of Columbia do not have felony DUI prosecution for multiple offenders.
Colorado is another state without felony DUI for multiple offenses. After a 57-year-old man was recently arrested for his 16th DUI, the District Attorney sought a grand jury indictment. After Denny Lovern's most recent drunk driving accident, he admitted to police that he “had a lot to drink and should not have been driving.” 18th Judicial DA George Brauchler said his office was going after the habitual offender because Colorado DUI laws are otherwise “weak.”
Some lawmakers speculate whether increased penalties including felony DUI prosecution, will actually make the streets safer. Colorado State Senator Jessie Ulibarri opposed a recent state felony DUI law, arguing, “what we know in states that have similar legislation is that they have the highest rates of people who are driving while drunk.” Instead, he recommended changes such as more checkpoints and greater police intervention early on.