NASHVILLE, TN (WMC) - Tennessee is one step closer to coming out of the Dark Ages when it comes to sharing an offender's DUI arrest and conviction records.
Monday, the Tennessee Senate passed legislation that would require county court clerks and arresting officers to turn over a DUI offender's arrest record within seven days of that arrest to the TBI and, in turn, to the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the criminal records database accessible inside every squad car in America. Additionally, the legislation would require court clerks to turn over a DUI offender's conviction record within five days.
Both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature have passed similar legislation. The Tennessee House has also passed tougher bond conditions and punishments on DUI offenders.
The bill was inspired by activists after seven-time DUI offender Melandus Penson of Belden, Mississippi, crashed into and killed Briarcrest Christian School students Maddie Kruse and Rachel Lynch, 17, in May 2015. Records revealed Penson was out on bond on his sixth DUI when he slammed into the back of the van carrying the girls to a summer beach vacation. Penson also carried five DUI convictions, but each was on a charge of first-offense DUI because three Mississippi counties and one Mississippi municipality never shared Penson's DUI arrest or conviction history with either the Mississippi Department of Public Safety or the NCIC.
"This was horrible, and it is still horrible," said Tennessee State Rep. Brian Kelsey, (R) Germantown. "Our hope is today that this tragic event will never be repeated in the state of Tennessee."
A WMC Action News 5 investigation revealed 18 Tennessee counties do not report DUI data to either the TBI or the NCIC, either. This legislation, if it becomes law, would make that mandatory.
The failure of county clerks and law enforcement to share DUI arrest histories and conviction records makes it virtually impossible for law enforcement making a DUI arrest in another jurisdiction to determine if the offender has a DUI history someplace else. As a result, the arresting officer has no choice but to charge a repeat offender with first-offense DUI, as officers did in the Penson case.
The legislation will not become law until both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly have signed off on it. Stay with WMCActionNews5.com for updates on the vote.