18 TN counties fail to report DUI data to crime databases

18 TN counties fail to report DUI data to crime databases
Briarcrest students Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse died in a DUI crash. (Source: Families)
Briarcrest students Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse died in a DUI crash. (Source: Families)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A West Tennessee state legislator revealed 18 of Tennessee's 95 counties do not report their DUI records either to the state's central crime reporting system or to the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Their failure to report makes it virtually impossible for a police officer making a DUI arrest in another jurisdiction to determine if that offender carries a DUI history in those counties, said Tennessee State Rep. Mark White, (R) Shelby Co. District 83.

"They've got to be able and willing to pull this information back up off the (Tennessee Incident Based Reporting) system, and it's not being done," White said, based on data he received from the Tennessee Governor's Highway Safety Office.

White said the counties -- which include West Tennessee counties Obion, Weakley, Dyer, Gibson, Crockett and Haywood -- are among the state's poorest and most rural. "It may take additional staffing," he said. "It may take additional funds or more personnel just for them to have time (to submit the reports)."

"Maybe we need some consequences or some incentives," said Molly Miller, co-chair of Report/Enforce/Protect (REP). Miller and other parents of Briarcrest Christian School in Eads, Tennessee, formed the grass-roots coalition after repeat DUI offender Melandus Penson of Belden, Mississippi, was charged with the DUI deaths of 17-year-old Briarcrest students Rachel Lynch and Maddie Kruse in a Marshall County, Mississippi, crash May 31.

A WMC Action News 5 Investigation revealed three Mississippi counties and one municipality failed to share Penson's DUI history with the NCIC. As a result, Penson's past DUI convictions never showed up when the Mississippi Highway Patrol ran his record on the NCIC, even in separate arrests within the same county. Officers charged him each time with a first offense, allowing him back on the road despite five previous DUI convictions.

The Penson case has spurred Miller and REP to demand reforms of DUI laws in both Mississippi and Tennessee. Miller said REP's demands include:

* FELONY CHARGE FOR 2ND DUI OFFENSE. Under Mississippi's current law, it takes three DUI offenses before an offender is charged with a felony. In Tennessee, it's the fourth offense. "We believe the second time offense is the trigger that creates ultimate consequences, ultimate infractions of the rule," Miller said.

* 15-YEAR 'LOOK-BACK' STATUTE. Mississippi law allows prosecutors to include any DUI convictions in the last five years of a repeat offender's history when pursuing enhanced penalties. In Tennessee, it's the last 10 years.

* MANDATORY REPORTING REQUIREMENT OF ALL MUNICIPALITIES & COUNTIES TO THE NCIC. "There may be some place in the system to put a fine or a fee to help fund those jurisdictions that don't have the money (to integrate their records with the NCIC)," said Miller.

Shelby County Assistant District Attorney General Billy Bond, the county's chief DUI prosecutor, suggested Tennessee's sheriffs should be responsible for the collection of DUI data from each law enforcement agency within their counties.

"So in Shelby County, you've got Millington, Bartlett, Germantown, Collierville, the sheriff's department and the Memphis Police Department, each of which presently operates their own booking system. Just make the sheriff responsible for collecting that data and transferring it to the state system (and on to the NCIC)," Bond said.

"The sheriff can't be responsible for sharing those records because the sheriff doesn't maintain that data," said Terry Ashe, executive director of the Tennessee Sheriffs' Association. "The counties' circuit courts are the courts of record. Circuit court clerks would maintain the records of DUI convictions.  If anything, they should be the ones responsible for sharing the records (with the NCIC)."

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, (D) Memphis, and U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly, (R) Saltillo, MS, are drafting legislation to withhold federal criminal justice funding from states that do not establish a clearinghouse for cities and counties to relay DUI case information to the NCIC.

"The state of Mississippi, for example, could have laws that require that the data by the (court) clerks be submitted to the NCIC or submit it even to Jackson, where some statewide record-keeping forum could be available," Cohen suggested.

Mississippi State Rep. Bill Kinkade, (R) Desoto, Marshall Counties, District 52, said he's working with the Mississippi legislature's leadership to plan a DUI summit at the state capitol in October. Policymakers may consider reforms first proposed in an emergency meeting June 9 in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

Those reforms may include:

* Mandatory DUI reporting requirement of municipalities to a central state system.

* No more house arrests on any DUI charge.

* Mandatory jail time on a first offense DUI: a minimum of six months.

* Second DUI = violent felony, punishable by at least five years.

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