Tag Archives: dui

Fed funding at risk under new DUI law for juveniles

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper on Friday criticized Tennessee Republicans for changes to the state’s underage drunken driving law that could lead to a loss of $60 million in federal highway funding.

Under the new law, which took effect on July 1, the allowable blood alcohol content for 18- to 20-year-old drivers was raised to 0.08 percent, but offenders now face the same level penalties as adult drivers convicted of drunken driving.

Federal guidelines suggest a strict 0.02 percent allowable blood alcohol content for drivers under the legal drinking age. The new Tennessee law splits this group into two: 16- and 17-year-olds are still subject to the 0.02 limit, while those 18-20 now have a higher allowable limit, but with the tougher punishments.

Cooper said the change runs afoul of federal standards for underage drivers, meaning that the state could stand to lose 8 percent of its federal highway funding, or $60 million per year.

“This must be a mistake,” Cooper said. “No one wants more drunk drivers on the road. State leaders should act immediately and comply with a zero tolerance policy.” Continue reading

Drunken driver gets 14-year-sentence in death of former state rep

A Kingsport man, whose drunken driving killed a former state representative, received a 14-year prison sentence Thursday, according to the Kingsport Times-News.

The sentence was handed down to James D. Hamm Jr. in a Sullivan County courtroom. Hamm was found guilty in February of this year on vehicular homicide by intoxication, driving under the influence, leaving the scene of a motor vehicle collision involving a fatality, two counts of reckless endangerment and failure to exercise due care in the death of former state representative Mike Locke.

“We’re very pleased with the sentence,” said Lesley Tiller, Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney. “We feel it’s appropriate. …I think it has given closure to the Locke family.”

Tiller and Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Kent Chitwood prosecuted the case for the state of Tennessee.

The state sought and received the maximum sentence in this case. Hamm will have to serve 30 percent of the sentence — four years and two months — before he is eligible for parole. Tiller said this was based on the fact that he does not have any prior felony convictions.

Locke was placing campaign signs along Fort Henry Drive for then primary candidate Bud Hulsey, who is now the state representative for Kingsport, when he was struck by a vehicle driven by Hamm. The impact knocked Locke off the bridge and into a ravine approximately 20 feet below.

…”I’m glad that the justice side of this thing is finally completed,” Hulsey said. “I wish his sentence was more severe than that.”

Last year, the Tennessee legislator passed a bill sponsored by Hulsey, dubbed the Ben Woodruff and Mike Locke Act, which requires those convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide to serve 60 percent of their sentence instead of 30. The bill does not apply retroactively.

Cohen bill calls for reporting all DUI arrests to NCIC

News release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) today introduced the bipartisan DUI Reporting Act of 2016. This bill would close a reporting loophole that inadvertently enables repeat DUI offenders to be tried more leniently as first time offenders. The DUI Reporting Act would require, as a condition of full Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) funding, that DUI arrests are reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the national crime database that is made instantly available to police right from their patrol cars, so repeat offenders can be charged appropriately.

“It is shameful that all DUI arrests are not reported to the national crime database,” said Congressman Cohen. “The consequences of this lack of reporting can prove life-threatening. Last year there was a tragic accident just outside of Memphis. Two teenage girls on their way to a vacation were killed around 6:30 a.m. when the car in which they were being driven was struck by a drunk driver who had accrued seven DUI charges since 2008 but had been allowed to plead guilty five times to a first-offense DUI. This story broke my heart, and I believe the hearts of everyone in the Mid-South. Police need access to this information to get drunk drivers off the road, and repeat offenders need to be charged appropriately.”
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Gun control for retired police convicted of DUI draws Todd protest

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Rep. Curry Todd, a retired Memphis police officer who has pleaded guilty to drunken driving and gun charges, is speaking out against Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to keep retired law enforcement officers with DUI convictions from being able to carry firearms in public.

Todd was arrested in Nashville in 2011 after he failed a roadside sobriety test and police found a loaded .38-caliber gun stuffed next to the driver’s seat. The Collierville Republican later pleaded guilty, but has easily been re-elected to the Legislature ever since.

The Haslam administration bill carried by Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, would give the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission the authority to ban retired officers from obtaining handgun carry permits if they were convicted of drunken driving once in the previous five years or twice within the past decade. It would only apply to new applicants.

The bill was up for a House floor vote on Monday evening after passing the Senate unanimously last month. But the vote was delayed after Todd questioned the need for the bill.

“I have no problem with removing someone’s firearm if they’ve been convicted of a DUI,” said Todd, whose state-issued carry permit was suspended after his 2013 guilty plea. But Todd said that he doesn’t support giving the POST Commission the added authority over retired officers.

“This is not needed; this is redundant,” said Todd. “They’re actually going into areas they shouldn’t be going in, and I think they’re trying to get a little kingdom out there.”
Continue reading

Approved bill makes penalties higher for repeat DUI, lower for drug possession


A bill increasing penalties for repeat DUI offenders while reducing the penalties for simple drug possession has won final legislative approval with a 32-0 vote Monday in the state Senate.

Further from The Tennessean:

The measure (HB1478)… would would make three or more convictions for simple possession of any drug — including marijuana and cocaine — a misdemeanor. Simple possession is when someone has an illegal substance for personal use and doesn’t plan on delivering or selling it.

The bill also would make it a Class C felony for anyone convicted of six or more DUIs and carjackings. Currently, those convicted of four or more DUIs are punished with a Class E felony.

The measure hit a brief roadblock in the House last month as Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, fielded questions about the bill, as well as attempts to amend it that would have significantly changed the legislation. Lamberth delayed a vote on the bill for two weeks before it was taken up again and ultimately approved with an 80-7 vote on Thursday.


House votes higher penalties for DUI, lower for drug possession

From WPLN:
The Tennessee House of Representatives has approved a plan to lower the legal penalties for repeated drug possession and raise them for driving drunk six times or more.

Lawmakers voted 80-7 Thursday to approve House Bill 1478. The proposal was put forward by Sumner County Republican William Lamberth, a former prosecutor.

He says it’ll make sure people with numerous DUIs spend more time behind bars.

“And it allows for some mercy (for) those folks that are addicts that unfortunately get caught the third time with simple possession of drugs,” Lamberth says.

The plan would turn drug possession into a misdemeanor. That means users — even those convicted three times or more — would receive less than a year in jail.

Meanwhile, people with six DUIs could get up to 15 years in prison. The measure also forces people convicted of carjacking to serve more time.

The state Senate could vote on the proposal next week.

Further from The Tennessean:
The legislation stalled when it was discussed on the House floor on March 17, after Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, attempted to amend the bill to exclude harder drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine, from the changes to multiple convictions of simple possession. Stewart also tried to gut the bill and insert an amendment that would have made marijuana possession a misdemeanor.

Although both efforts from Stewart failed, the bill generated enough conversation and questions among House members that Lamberth delayed action on the legislation.

On Thursday the bill generated no discussion or debate before the chamber voted on it.

Vote delayed on changing DUI, drug possession penalties

The sponsor of a bill aimed to increase penalties for offenders convicted of multiple DUIs and decrease the punishment for those found carrying small amounts of drugs pulled back the measure on Thursday amid questions from his House colleagues.

further from The Tennessean:

The bill, sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, would make three or more convictions for simple possession of any drug — including marijuana and cocaine — a misdemeanor. Simple possession is when someone has an illegal substance for personal use — they don’t plan on delivering or selling it.

Lamberth’s bill also would increase the penalties for offenders convicted of multiple DUIs and carjackings.

The legislation, which received approval in four separate House committees, was set for a vote on Thursday but hit a barrier after lawmakers discussed the measure for nearly 40 minutes, which included two attempts to cut off debate.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, attempted to amend the bill in two ways. His first amendment sought to exclude harder drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine, from the changes to multiple convictions of simple possession; the second would have gutted the entire bill and made possession of marijuana a misdemeanor offense.

While both of Stewart’s amendments failed, the bill was altered to remove heroin from the conviction changes.

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, said they supported the DUI aspects of the bill but were concerned about the portion pertaining to drugs.

“Throughout my entire life, I’ve been taught to temper justice with mercy,” Lamberth said, while defending the bill. He noted that those with three or more simple possession convictions would actually face more jail time than they do today, but a felony would not be on their record.

Open container bill continues multi-year losing streak

State Rep. Jon Lundberg’s latest attempt to to pass a so-called “Pass The Bottle” bill failed in the House State Government Subcommittee on Wednesday, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

The bill (HB1658) would have revised present law governing open containers of alcoholic beverages or beer in a motor vehicle.

Lundberg, R-Bristol, told subcommittee lawmakers he finds it difficult to explain to constituents why his bill always fails.

“It is legal to drive in a car and have an open container of alcohol as a passenger and even pass a state trooper,” Lundberg said. “This is called the ‘Pass The Bottle’ bill because what happens is the driver is drinking and just passes the bottle to the passenger and there’s no fine.”

…Over the last five years, said Lundberg, Tennessee has lost $100 million in federal funds because state lawmakers have not passed his legislation.

“Should people drink in a car? No,” Lundberg said. “If we’re going to talk about a gas tax (increase) and vote on it, we need every penny and every dollar we’ve got to use on roads and bridges.”

Subcommittee Chairman Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, openly disagreed with Lundberg.

“I guess I just have a difference of opinion about (the bill),” Sanderson told Lundberg. “I do not condone drinking and driving … but I do not want to punish the person sitting in the back seat and drinking a glass of wine.”

City manager charged with DUI

Mt. Pleasant’s city manager has been charged with drunken driving, according to the Columbia Daily Herald.

Katherine Suzanne Collier, 54, of 1004 Mill Pond Road, was swerving and not staying in her lane on North Main Street in Mt. Pleasant, according to a Maury County Sheriff’s Department report.

“It’s very embarrassing,” Collier told The Daily Herald on Monday. “My goal is to reduce the amount of drama in Mt. Pleasant, and now I am that drama.”

…Two juveniles, Collier’s son and a friend, were in the back seat of the vehicle. They allegedly told deputies “they could tell she was drunk and they were getting scared,” according to the report.

The friend’s father came to the scene and gave both juveniles a ride home.

Deputies searched the vehicle and allegedly found in the center console a cup containing red wine “that was about 3/4 empty,” the report stated.

…She was charged with driving under the influence, failure to maintain lanes, violating open container law and violation of Tennessee implied consent law…. Mt. Pleasant City Attorney Quinn Brandon Stewart said that according to her contract, Collier must be convicted of the crime for the board to call her position into question.

Lawsuit contends TN Highway Patrol has quota system for DUI arrests

A Greeneville attorney has filed a federal lawsuit contending the Tennessee Highway Patrol has a quota system for DUI arrests in violation of state law, reports the Johnson City Press.

Attorney Frank Santore filed the suit for his client, Gary A. Williams, over an arrest that stemmed from a wreck on April 20, 2014, in Jefferson County. Williams, who was riding a motorcycle, hit a vehicle that pulled into his path, according to the suit. Williams was injured and spent several months recovering. During Williams’ medical treatment, Trooper William Satterfield ordered a blood draw to test for alcohol or drugs.

Almost a year later — on Feb. 11, 2015 — the investigating officer, Trooper Derek Turbeville, obtained a warrant and Williams was arrested and charged with DUI based on a lab report showing marijuana metabolites in his system. Because Williams was injured, the trooper was unable to conduct field sobriety tests at the scene. On the day of Williams’ trial in Jefferson County General Sessions Court in March, the case was dismissed outright because the “labs only show metabolites,” according to a notation on the court judgment form.

But regardless of the fact it was thrown out, the DUI remained in the THP’s documented arrests because the agency does not follow through with case disposition, according to what officials told the Johnson City Press in several interviews last year. Commissioner of Safety Bill Gibbons and THP Col. Tracy Trott adamantly denied there was a quota system, even though multiple troopers — whose identities have been protected by the Press — said otherwise.

…In Williams’ lawsuit, he asserts that it was because of an unwritten rule for troopers to meet a certain level of arrests that he was arrested.

“Although not specifically contained in their policies and procedures, (Williams) avers that it an unwritten rule among the rank and file of the troopers patrolling Tennessee highways that they are under pressure by their superiors to ’make the numbers look good,’ i.e. to make arrests,” Santore wrote in the lawsuit. “If arrest numbers do not meet certain quotas … troopers that do not meet these quotas are given, if not explicit, implicit reprimands, demotions, changes of shift, poor preferences for schedules, and are subject to other adverse employment actions.”

The lawsuit states that because of the “informal quota system,” troopers were pressured to arrest Williams without probable cause even though the lab report “showed insufficient substances,” that would have impacted his ability to operate a vehicle. The lawsuit further noted that the charge against Williams was dismissed without the assistant district attorney general ever consulting with the investigating troopers.

As a result of his arrest, Williams had to pay a $500 bond to get out of jail, where he spent one night, and $4,000 in legal fees to defend himself… Williams asks for a jury trial and judgments against the state and Department of Safety for $350,000 as compensatory damages for violating his civil rights and $700,000 in punitive damages against the department.

Note: A previous 2015 post on THP quota claims is HERE.