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Proposed law could lead to tougher sentencing in DUI trials

Bill would allow jurors to see more of a defendant's criminal record

A proposed bill put forward by a Indiana lawmaker could lead to tougher sentences being handed down by juries against defendants in drunk driving cases, according to WKMS News. The bill would give juries greater access to information about a defendant's history of DUI and domestic assault convictions in misdemeanor trials. While advocates of the bill describe it as a public safety measure, critics say it would be costly to implement and may not be appropriate given the nature of misdemeanor cases.

Five-year limit

Under the current law, juries in misdemeanor trials, including DUI and domestic assault trials, are able to see a defendant's criminal record, including misdemeanors, from the past five years. Misdemeanors that a defendant was convicted for beyond that five year period are not viewable by the jury and therefore do not factor into sentencing.

The proposed legislation would change that rule and expand the amount of information juries are allowed to access about a defendant's criminal record. Furthermore, the bill would split misdemeanor trials in two. Juries would first have to determine whether a defendant is guilty of an offense and, in the second phase, they would have to come up with an appropriate sentence. Under current law, juries determine the verdict and the sentence at the same time.

Controversy begins

Advocates of the bill say it is designed to keep repeat drunk drivers off the road and therefore improve public safety. By giving juries greater access to a defendant's criminal record, they believe repeat offenders will be more likely to face tougher sentences.

Critics of the bill, however, say that criminal records are not supposed to play such a central role in misdemeanor cases. According to WPSD News, such cases are meant to be limited to the crime that an individual is being tried for and not for his or her past behavior. Furthermore, since the bill would likely lead to lengthier jail sentences, the costs for counties would be increased because counties are the ones responsible for running and maintaining jails.

DUI defense

As the above proposal shows, DUI offenses are being taken increasingly seriously by lawmakers and prosecutors in Indiana. People facing such a charge risk fines, driving restrictions, and jail time. Furthermore, a DUI conviction can upend other areas of a person's life and may even make it harder to find employment.

As a result of the serious consequences of a DUI conviction, it is imperative that people contact a criminal defense attorney if they have been charged with drunk driving. An experienced attorney can help clients understand what rights they have during a DUI case and what legal avenues can be pursued to minimize the damage posed by a DUI charge.

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