Mississippi lawmakers target more jail time, better communication in DUI cases

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OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. — If you had one too many during the game or you’re with someone who has, don’t get behind the wheel and drive.

Drunk driving accidents account for 40 percent of all traffic fatalities on Super Bowl Sunday, according to the NTSB.

One Mississippi lawmaker spoke with WREG about his plan to make the highway safer.

“We’re actually going home, and we’re not leaving again tonight because I don’t want to be out where people have been drinking and things like that,” one Southaven mother told WREG.

That mom knows the risks of being on the road Super Bowl night. The sobering facts are some fans will make drinking part of the game and get behind the wheel and drive.

A Mississippi lawmaker said some will keep doing it even if they get caught because criminals have learned the loopholes over time.

“Because you can be sentenced up to one year in prison, that according to federal statute entitles you to a jury trial, so sometimes that can be used as a delay tactic,” said State Sen. David Parker of Olive Branch.

Parker said those delays often lead to plea agreements for lesser penalties. He’s proposing two bills to strengthen DUI laws; one speeds up the court process sending repeat offenders to jail faster.

“The hope there would be that if someone has a second offense DUI and they get a third one, that’s a felony with significant jail time,” he said.

Briarcrest High teens Maddie Kruse and Rachel Lynch are the inspiration behind the bills.

They were killed and two others critically injured in May 2015 when Melandus Penson slammed into their car. Deputies said Penson was driving drunk; it was his eighth DUI since 2008.

“We’re going to try to instruct these agencies to try to report to each other in a better way,” Parker said.

Penson had DUI cases pending in a number of different counties, but law enforcement had no system to track arrests outside their jurisdiction.

Parker said if there had been, Penson might have been in jail instead of behind a wheel.

“It’s a terrible way for me to find out that we had these issues, but I guess my charge in this and knowing more of these issues, is to try to prevent this from happening to other families,” Parker said.

The state senator wants federal reporting agencies like the National Information Crime Center, the NCIC, to also keep track of DUI violators so drunk drivers can’t rack up offenses in one state while another state doesn’t know it’s dealing with a repeat DUI offender.

Parker said legislators held meetings with prosecutors, judges, law enforcement and victims’ families before drafting the bill.

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