In-Depth: Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to address the loophole in the U.S.' drunken-driving laws that enables repeat DUI offenders to be charged and tried as first-time offenders because of inconsistent reporting:
“This bill will save lives by enacting common-sense, bipartisan reforms to harmonize reporting standards for DUI offenses across the United States. Repeat drunk drivers should not be getting back out on the roads because of a reporting loophole. It should not matter where you are caught driving drunk. If you drive drunk, previous offenses should be recorded and penalties should increase so innocent lives can be saved. The accrual of multiple first-time DUI offenses is unacceptable and must be brought to an end.”
After introducing this bill, Rep. Cohen added, "Repeat offenders are the problems, and repeat offenders need to be known and charged that way. They need to get some guaranteed jail time and guaranteed treatment to protect the driving public.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) adds:
“One of the most impactful steps we can take to combat the serious threat to our families and communities posed by drunk and impaired drivers is to facilitate the ability of states to share information about DUI convictions. By most estimates, approximately a third of all DUI offenses are committed by repeat offenders. Unfortunately, the lack of a centralized list of DUI offenses that states can reference can lead to older convictions or charges from other states being overlooked, which in turn can lead to lighter punishments or a quicker restoration of driving privileges than the law would otherwise allow. The legislation we are introducing today will help make our communities safer by providing states with an accurate and complete list of DUI convictions, thereby making it easier for states to keep habitual drunk drivers off our streets.”
When he introduced this bill in the 115th Congress, Rep. Cohen said:
“This bill will save lives by enacting common-sense, bipartisan reforms to harmonize reporting standards for DUI offenses across the states. A DUI somewhere should be recognized as a DUI anywhere. It should not matter where you are caught driving drunk. If you drive drunk, previous offenses should be recorded and penalties should increase so innocent lives can be saved. The accrual of multiple first-time DUI offenses is unconscionable and must be brought to an end.”
Christopher P. Cavazos, an attorney in Edinburg, Texas, points out that this bill would dramatically escalate the potential consequences for drunk drivers:
“Technology has made the world a smaller place. It has also changed the way people are affected by criminal charges. If this bill becomes law, with a quick search, a person can possibly go from facing a misdemeanor to being charged with a felony. With this bill, a conviction today for a DWI in one state can dramatically alter the punishment range for all future DWIs across the country."
The Law Office of Ivan O.B. Morse, which opposes this bill, points out that it is duplicative with the existing Interstate Driver License Compact and the National Driver Register:
“Most states are members of The Driver License Compact, except for Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee, and Wisconsin… [T]here is no need for more legislation as it would be duplicative of an existing law. The Interstate Driver License Compact and the National Driver Register prevent people from obtaining drivers licenses in any state if they have been convicted of multiple DUIs in the past and their license is suspended, cancelled, or revoked at the present time… [The Driver License Compact] is a compact to exchange data motorist's home state. If an out-of-state motorist violates the law it is reported to their home state. Each state has a distinct set of standards by which they handle individuals convicted of DUI, and we believe it should remain as such.”
This bill has eight bipartisan House cosponsors, including four Democrats and four Republicans, in the 116th Congress. In the 115th Congress, there were 13 cosponsors of this bill, including seven Republicans and six Democrats. It didn't receive a committee vote last Congress. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) endorses this bill.
Of Note: Some estimates suggest that approximately a third of all DUI offenses are committed by repeat offenders. Despite this, not all police report DUI arrests to either the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) or the Next Generation Identification (NGI) database. Consequently, there isn’t a centralized list of DUI offenses for states to reference when determining the appropriate punishment for those convicted of driving while intoxicated. As a result, older convictions or charges from other states can be overlooked, leading to lighter punishments or a quick restoration of driving privileges than the law would otherwise allow.
This bill was sparked by a case where two Memphis teenagers were killed by a drunk driver who had seven DUI charges, but was allowed to plead guilty as a first-time offender five times.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / kali9