Tennessee leaders follow Mississippi’s lead, prepare to evaluate DUI laws

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As Mississippi lawmakers prepare to possibly patch up holes in their DUI laws, Tennessee lawmakers and leaders could be looking to do the same.

State and city officials told WREG that even though the recent crash that killed two Briarcrest students and injured others happened in Mississippi, they want to prevent something like that from happening here.

“Maybe with a little assistance, we’ll get something done as a result,” said State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris over the phone Wednesday.

Norris said he played a role this year in cracking down on DUI laws in Tennessee.

He referenced the passing of Public Chapter 433 which increases the minimum sentence for aggravated vehicular homicide.

He also referenced Public Chapter 490 which mandates that a person charged with vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, or aggravated vehicular homicide with a prior alcohol-related conviction, will receive a type of monitoring device as part of a bail agreement.

Norris said he spoke with District Attorney General Amy Weirich and other leaders Wednesday.

From a legislative standpoint, Norris said he wants to know how arresting officers could see if drunk drivers have pending DUI charges, not just prior convictions, in order to spot habitual DUI offenders.

Melandus Penson, the man accused of driving drunk and crashing into a car carrying the Briarcrest students, had pending cases.

Last week, Mayor A C Wharton told WREG he hopes leaders review Tennessee DUI laws.

“We’re going to look at our laws, I hope, even though this was in Mississippi. Let’s make sure. Let’s check in Tennessee and see if we have safeguards in place to say this won’t happen here or at least minimize so far as possible the chance of this happening,” Wharton said.

This week, Mississippi lawmakers, prosecutors, and law enforcement gathered to discuss failures in the state’s DUI laws.

The father of surviving car crash victim Kara Holden said a second DUI conviction in Mississippi should be a felony.

Currently, felonies occur upon a third conviction.

Cody Holden said the fact that in Tennessee, it takes four DUI convictions to get a felony, “makes me sick.”

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