Proposed bill aims to change how DUIs are reported across U.S.

Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse, both 17 years old, were killed when Penson rear-ended their car while driving drunk. (Source: Victims' families)
Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse, both 17 years old, were killed when Penson rear-ended their car while driving drunk. (Source: Victims' families)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A new bill spearheaded by a Memphis congressman would change the way law enforcement across the country reports DUI arrests.

Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Steve Chabot (R-OH) introduced the DUI Reporting Act on Thursday.

The bill is to "address the loophole in our nation's drunken-driving laws that enables repeat DUI offenders to be charged and tried as first-time offenders because of inconsistent reporting."

The bill is supported by a group of bipartisan co-sponsors including Ryan Costello (R-PA), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Trent Kelly (R-MS), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Tom Marino (R-PA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

Cohen cited the case of Melandus Penson, who killed two 17-year-olds on Highway 78 in Marshall County, Mississippi, in 2015.

Penson was nearly twice the legal blood alcohol limit at the time of the crash and was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the deaths of Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse.

Between 2008 and 2015, Penson was charged with DUI seven times with five convictions. Each time he was convicted, he pleaded guilty and was convicted as a first-time DUI offender.

The reason, according to the WMC Action News investigation, is none of the counties or municipalities reported Penson's DUI history to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC)--the national database that police can access instantly at their desks or in their patrol cars virtually everywhere in the country.

As a result, Penson's past DUI convictions never showed up when the Mississippi Highway Patrol ran his record on the NCIC, even when Penson had separate arrests within the same county.

After the fatal crash, Tennessee passed a law requiring all law enforcement to report arrest records to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation within five days and every DUI to NCIC withing seven days.

Mississippi--where the crash actually happened--failed to pass a similar crime reporting law. That's why U.S. lawmakers set out to pass the DUI Reporting Act.

"This bill will save lives by enacting common-sense, bipartisan reforms to harmonize reporting standards for DUI offenses across the states," Cohen said. "A DUI somewhere should be recognized as a DUI anywhere. It should not matter where you are caught driving drunk. If you drive drunk, previous offenses should be recorded and penalties should increase so innocent lives can be saved. The accrual of multiple first-time DUI offenses is unconscionable and must be brought to an end."

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