DUI changes to hit Oxford
as published in The Daily Mississippian, January 27, 2015.
New police technology and recent modifications in Mississippi laws have affected the amount of DUI charges and the way defendants approach their cases, according to Oxford Municipal Judge Larry Little.
The amount of DUI cases tried in court has increased slightly in Little’s 23 years as city judge.
“There are a few more (DUI cases), but the onset of videotaping and all has changed for the better in the way that we can handle DUI cases,” Little said.
In addition, changes in the law have been made that will redefine DUI charges for first offenders, according to the judge.
Previously, the Mississippi ignition interlock law allowed the use of breathalyzer devices to be placed into second and third offenders’ vehicles, which prohibit drivers from starting the vehicle if their blood alcohol content is above the legal limit. The device will also periodically prompt the driver to pull over and check his or her blood alcohol content, according to Oxford City Prosecutor Jay Chain.
The use of the ignition interlock device is not required for DUI offenders, but it does give them driving privileges during a license suspension if they choose to install it.
The state law was modified to allow qualifying first DUI offenders the use of ignition interlock devices during a license suspension, not just second or third offenders, effective Oct. 1, 2014. A qualifying first offender is one who failed a breathalyzer test upon arrest, has pled guilty and has never previously received a DUI charge.
“They want a second chance. Some folks come up here, and it’s an anomaly to them that they have been charged and caught driving under the influence,” Chain said. “This is a way that they can maybe purge themselves of that by proving to themselves and to society and everybody else that they don’t need to drink and drive.”
If a first offender uses the device for 120 days, he or she may have the opportunity for the DUI charge to be expunged from legal record, Little said. As for the likeliness of a defendant proving a not guilty plea, the judge gave a straightforward response.
“If (the police and prosecutor) can’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, you don’t get convicted,” Little said.
In the courtroom, new police car technology is providing more accurate forms of evidence in DUI cases. Video footage recorded from the dashboard of police cars are now often reviewed in high court, according to the judge.
“Parents can see, defendants can see, court people can see, and the judge and the police can all see,” Little said. “They can improve the level of how they investigate these things by watching the tapes.”
Both the change in the ignition-interlock law and the use of video as evidence in court is all in an effort to prevent recidivism in alcohol related offenses.
“If you’re the defendant (watching the video), you have a pretty good idea of whether you really, really had too much and where your limit is, as well,” Little said.
When faced with a DUI charge, local defense attorney Dwight Ball said it is crucial to remember the nature of the crime.
“You’ve got to remember, with DUI, it’s not a crime that is an inherent wrong,” Ball said. “It’s a crime of poor judgment at one particular time in your life. It’s a series of small little instances, whereby a person isn’t showing their best judgment.”
Ball also said the expertise of local law enforcement plays a large role in the number of DUI arrests made each year.
“In my very strong opinion, the Oxford Police Department and the University Police Department are excellent law enforcement officers, especially in the area of DUI enforcement,” Ball said. “They are extremely confident, and they know what they’re doing. I’ve been to many other jurisdictions concerning DUI defenses, and I’ve never seen a law enforcement agency as strong as the Oxford Police Department.”