MARSHALL CO., MS (WMC) - Melandus Penson,
, has been charged with seven DUIs and has five DUI convictions since 2008.
"The first offense is generally a fine and no jail time," said Attorney Kizer Jones. "The second is a fine and some jail time, and after that, it's a felony."
That's not what happened with Penson. After seven DUI charges, he was still allegedly driving drunk.
overlapped. He was arrested for his fifth DUI in Lee County on July 5, 2014, just five days before he pleaded guilty to his fourth DUI, which was committed in Pontotoc County.
"It's not uncommon if you reside in one county and get arrested in another county, from county to county, city to city, there is no way of knowing," Jones added. "Until the conviction there is no way of charging with a second or third offense until there is a conviction on the initial charge."
Union County, MS. 5/3/2008. (per Union County Justice Court Clerk records)
- Pleaded not guilty 5/27/2008
- Changed to guilty plea to first offense DUI 6/24/2008
- Sentenced to 30 days in Jail, 28 suspended with time served, $563 fine
Union County, MS. 6/3/2012 (per Union County Justice Court Clerk records)
- Pleaded guilty to first offense DUI 7/24/2012
Sherman, MS. 12/2013 (per Sherman Police Chief Joel Spellins)
- Charged with second offense DUI. According to Spellins, “We had a paperwork mistake. We used a faxed copy of the arrest report instead of a certified copy. The lawyers got involved, and that led to a first offense DUI plea.”
- Pleaded guilty to first offense DUI 8/2014
- Still owes between $1,200 and $1,300 on fine
Pontotoc County, MS 5/17/2014 (per Kathy Packett, Head Clerk, Pontotoc County Justice Court Clerk's Office)
- Pleaded guilty to first offense DUI 7/10/2014
Lee County, MS 7/5/2014 (per Debbie Berryman, Head Clerk, Lee County Justice Court Clerk's Office)
- Pleaded guilty to first offense DUI 10/31/2014
- Fined $808.50, still owes $133.50
Lee County, MS 3/22/15 (per Debbie Berryman, Head Clerk, Lee County Justice Court Clerk's Office)
- Charged With first offense DUI
- Trial date set for July 9, 2015
- Also charged with no proof of insurance and no driver's license.
Marshall County, MS 5/31/15
- Charged with 2 counts of DUI death, 2 counts of DUI injury
- Held on $3 million Bond
- Preliminary hearing set for June 8, 2015
For each of Penson's seven DUI charges, he was charged as if it were his first DUI.
According to Sherman Police Chief Joel Spellins, since the charges take so long to move through the courts, Penson has been able to pile them up without punishment.
"He's been charged by seven cops," said the Sherman police chief. "That means seven cops put him in jail for driving under the influence. The cops are doing their jobs. It has to be the court system, the punishment, something has to change."
Spellins says it makes him sick to hear about the many DUIs that Penson was charged with over the past seven years. He says the problem with the law is that since a person is seen as innocent until proven guilty, pending cases have no bearing on a person's new charges.
In fact, if someone is arrested in a different county than a previous arrest, police can't even see the charges.
"I'm not aware of anything unless an investigator went to each municipality and manually searched records of other municipalities or counties," Jones added.
But even if investigators could see previous charges in other counties, Spellins says that information would likely have no effect on the outcome of a later arrest.
"It would be good to be able to see it, but it would have no bearing on the charge," Spellins explained. "I could know you have three DUIs pending, but if you haven't been convicted I'm still going to have to write you a DUI first."
As the families and friends of Maddie Kruse and Rachel Lynch mourn their death, Jones says this case may just be enough to finally make harsher punishments a reality.
"Even though we have to wait and determine innocence, at least we should be able to determine if bad behavior is being established."