Oklahoma Seeks to Track Drunk Drivers Better Through New Law

dui-recordOne of the persistent complaints in law enforcement is that offenders can often evade a system simply because they aren’t in it. It’s not easy to track drunk drivers, for example. Contrary to what one might believe, all crimes against city, state, county and country are not entered in one big database so that records will come up, NCIS-style, on a big screen the moment a few keys are pressed.

This is especially worrying with drunk driving, whose enforcement depends on characterizing offenders as first, repeat, or serial repeat. Courts and DMVs impose fines and and measures like ignition interlocks depending on how likely the driver is to reoffend. But often a drunk driver’s records are spread out in various jurisdictions, and a particular court can’t locate them.

Representative Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, wants all Oklahoma DUI cases to be handled by courts of record. That means that anyone arrested for DUI would probably be tried in a state court.  Only two municipal courts, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, are courts of record. A court of record is one whose proceedings are recorded and available as evidence.

The advantage is obvious: a drunk driver who might have gotten away with a first-offense penalty would be treated correctly as a second or third offender, because the records would be available to the prosecutor. More drivers would be identified as repeat offenders and would be required to install ignition interlocks – car breathalyzer devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. This ability to track drunk drivers will be a boon for public safety.

There are disadvantages to Rep. Sanders’s bill:

  • It would increase burdens on state courts and would probably slow down the process for offenders
  • It would deprive municipal courts of DUI fines and fees, which might even shut down some rural courts

So far the advantages have won out. The measure, HB3146, passed the House by a wide margin, with bipartisan support. It’s a bill to keep an eye on, since its final passage might change the landscape for drunk driving prosecution in Oklahoma.