One of the hallmarks of the criminal justice system, not only in Oklahoma but throughout the United States, is the “repeat offender / revolving door” phenomenon: a disproportionate number of criminal convictions come from a comparative handful of offenders who keep committing offenses, sometimes engaging in the same infractions over and over. The classic example of such behavior is the repeat DUI offender.
The Problem: How to Track DUI Convictions That Are Not Recorded?
In Oklahoma, one contributing cause of people being arrested and convicted repeatedly for drunk driving offenses has been what you could call a “loophole” in the way that courts operate: with only a couple of exceptions in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, municipal courts where DUI cases are tried are not “Courts of Record.” And that has meant that too many drunk drivers have been slipping through a gap in the legal system that has allowed repeat offenders to keep being treated like first-time ones. This generally would apply to only those with one prior DUI as Oklahoma already has a law requiring any person arrested for DUI with a previous DUI from a municipal court to be prosecuted in the State District Court.
The courts in this state are not oblivious to the repeat DUI offender problem. Oklahoma law provides for penalties that grow more severe for DUI multiple drunk driving convictions, with the main distinction being that convictions subsequent to the first one become eligible for felony-level punishment instead of the misdemeanor-level that is common for the first-time offender. The trouble is, for multiple drunk driving convictions to be “visible” to any given court those earlier convictions need to have been made by a court of record.
Think of it this way: A motorist can be arrested for DUI, tried in the municipal non-court of record and receive the municipal penalty. Later, the same driver is arrested for a second DUI, and the charge is still treated as a first offense because the non-court of record DUI cannot be used to enhance the new charge to a felony. Although the person charged will be treated harsher than a typical first offender, the case is still a misdemeanor carrying 10 days to a year in the county jail and a fine up to $1,000.
The Solution: Creating More Courts of Record
A new state DUI law that took effect in November of this year aims to close this blind spot by requiring that all DUI cases must be prosecuted in a Court of Record. Municipalities with populations of at least 60,000 can create their own Courts of Record under the new arrangement. With more subsequent DUI convictions being entered into a statewide database—and thereby becoming part of a driver’s public record—the problem of the “repeat first-time drunk driver” should start to become a thing of the past. This statewide database looks good for the politicians but is an added expense not needed as the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety already has a master driving index that lists anytime they receive a license affidavit that a person refused the state’s test or took the test and had a result over the legal limit. This non-expungable, non-public record is available to all police officers and prosecutors. Any prosecutor properly doing his/her job will review this record before filing charges.
What This May Mean for You
Going forward, if you have one or more DUI convictions you can no longer safely hope that the next court you find yourself in for a DUI charge will be clueless about your record; you should assume the opposite. This can result in legal consequences that are much more severe (new laws in Oklahoma that reduce certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors do not apply to DUI). By its nature, a felony conviction can result in a state prison sentence of more than a year, with heavier fines and penalties as well. And having a felony conviction on your record can complicate your life in many ways even after you have completed your punishment.
Having an attorney on your side who knows how to conduct a thorough and vigorous DUI defense is now more important than ever. While no law office can guarantee results, an experienced DUI defense firm can maximize your chances of acquittal or at the very least receiving more favorable terms if the outcome goes against you.