3 On Your Side: DUI Crime & Punishment in MS - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

DUI crime and punishment in MS explained

An offender's DUI sentence, and even their license privileges, will vary depending on a few different factors. An offender's DUI sentence, and even their license privileges, will vary depending on a few different factors.
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

The 4th of July holiday weekend turned out to be a wild one for law enforcement. State Troopers report 259 people statewide were slapped with DUI. That's up from 95 during the same weekend in 2012. Some of them will be repeat DUI offenders.

A glance at the City of Jackson's arrest docket for the month of June reveals seven second-offense DUI's and two 3rd offense DUI's. That means at least two people in one month in the City of Jackson had the opportunity to drink, drive, and get caught three times.

Why aren't these offenders locked up?

An offender's DUI sentence, and even their license privileges, will vary depending on a few different factors, including where the offender was stopped for driving drunk, and how many priors the person has under his belt.

Ken Fairly, a Rankin County Justice Court Judge and Municipal Judge in three Rankin County cities, says how DUI offenses are handled can differ. Because of the different hats Fairly wears, he's just the man to explain that not all second- and third-offense DUI's are dealt with the same way.

"When I have on my Municipal Judge's hat in Flowood, Florence, Puckett - a DUI second offense, six months is the most jail time I can give. Even though, the statute allows a DUI second offense, higher fines and more jail time," explains Fairly.

But as a Justice Court Judge, Fairly can sentence a second-time offender up to one year in jail. The same rules apply for any municipal or county judge across the state. There's really no accounting for the discrepancy; that's just how the current state laws are written.

And if there's a case with a three-time DUI offender, Fairly can't grant the final disposition as a City Judge. That's because City Judges don't have the authority to do so on felony cases.

Which brings us to something else you might not know about DUI crime and punishment: First- and second-offense DUI's are misdemeanors. A DUI only becomes a felony the third time a person is arrested.

"If there's a wreck involved, I generally impose the jail time to serve. If reckless driving is involved, jail time to serve," said Judge Fairly.

A person convicted of a first-offense DUI can be sentenced to no more than 48 hours in jail and no more than $1,000 in fines. If a second DUI is committed within five years, it carries a jail term of one year or less, and a fine of $1,500 or less. A third offense within five years, the felony, puts the offender in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with a prison term of at least one year, no more than five, and a fine of no more than $5,000.

When it comes to staying behind the wheel, officials explain if the offender takes the breathalyzer test on the portable breath test machine (Mobile Intox 8000) roadside sobriety test, his or her license will not be suspended unless they're eventually convicted.

If an offender refuses the breathalyzer test on the Mobile Intox 8000 portable breath test machine, they can kiss their license goodbye for at least 90 days.

Jackson Attorney Derek Hall points out that there is no consequence whatsoever for refusing to take a hand-held breath test, or a roadside sobriety test outside the vehicle. "In fact, I highly encourage people to refuse them," he says. "They prove nothing more than whether or not people can stand on one leg and count or walk a line without using your arms to balance."

Judge Fairly says DUI's also require the motorist to take 16 hours of alcohol safety education and attend victim impact classes, at the expense of the offender. Judges can also utilize counseling services and impose drug and alcohol screening as part of their probation.

In addition, a new law will go into effect July 2014 that will require those convicted of DUI to have an ignition interlock device placed on their vehicle for a certain amount of time. 

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