A new Oklahoma law that takes effect November 1 will change the way DUI is prosecuted in the state. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a state crime, but it is also a municipal offense. This means that many misdemeanor DUI cases are handled by cities in municipal court, rather than prosecuted by the state in county district courts.
While this process seems to be a good way of keeping misdemeanor DUI from clogging state courts, critics of the system say it prevents adequate tracking of previous DUI convictions when those convictions were obtained in various municipal courts across the state.
Under House Bill 3146, municipal prosecution of DUI is no longer allowed unless the city has a Court of Record (Oklahoma County and Tulsa County do have municipal courts of record). The new law will also create a database to accurately track a person's DUI arrest record.
Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, introduced HB 3146 after his wife was involved in an accident with a man who had multiple DUI arrests in the month before the accident with Sanders's wife. Sanders described the incident that prompted the bill:
“There were six open containers in his vehicle, and this was his fifth DUI in five months. And he picked up his sixth a week and a half later. This had happened in several different counties and several different cities. The cities were not talking with the district courts.”
Under state law, a first DUI offense is a misdemeanor; second and subsequent DUI offenses are felonies. If a municipality convicts someone of DUI and does not have a court of record to communicate with the district courts, a second--or third or fourth or fifth--DUI may not be properly charged or prosecuted as a felony.
The new law is intended to close a loophole in existing law that allows some repeat DUI offenders to avoid the full legal penalties of driving under the influence. By doing so, lawmakers hope that the new law will reduce the number of impaired drivers on Oklahoma streets.Image credit: Josh Hallett