Lawmakers vote to toughen DUI penalties

On February 28, 2008, in News 2008, by Mark Norris

By Richard Locker, CommercialAppeal.com
February 28, 2008

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Senate unanimously approved a bill today to strengthen penalties when drunk driving results in serious injury or death to child under age 18 in the same vehicle.

The Senate also approved a bill removing the requirement in current law that a blood test for alcohol or drugs be administered to drivers within two hours of arrest or detention.

Both bills are awaiting committee review in the House of Representatives. They would go into effect next Jan. 1 if they become law.

The first bill, sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, corrects an inequity in current law that results in lesser punishment for a drunk driver when a child is injured or killed in his vehicle than an adult passenger.

Under present law, if a driver commits a DUI offense with a minor in the vehicle and the child suffers serious injury as a result, the offense is a Class D felony under Tennessee’s sentencing code, punishable by two to 12 years in prison. If the child is killed, the charge is a Class C felony, punishable by three to 15 years.

Norris’s legislation would revise the drunken driving law in two ways:

If the child dies as a result of the violation, the offense would be a Class B felony – subject to imprisonment of eight to 30 years – and punished as vehicular homicide involving intoxication, which means courts will ban the convicted motorist from driving for up to 10 years.

If the child suffers serious injury as a result of the DUI violation, the offense would remain a Class D felony but punished as vehicular assault, which allows courts to ban the convicted motorist from driving up to five years – in addition to the jail time.

Norris said that an inadvertent inconsistency between two different sections of Tennessee created a greater punishment when adult passengers are hurt or killed and the bill — drafted by the statewide association of district attorneys general — equalizes the punishment.

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