Study: Repeat drunk drivers in Oklahoma often avoid proper punishment

A new study indicates that many Oklahoma DUI convictions happen outside of courts of record and therefore aren’t weighed when repeat offenders are charged.

Drunk drivers contribute to a substantial number of the car accidents, injuries and fatalities that take place each year in Ponca City and other parts of Oklahoma. According to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, in 2014 alone, drunk drivers were involved in 3,558 crashes. A reported 307 of these crashes caused incapacitating injuries, while another 152 deadly drunk driving accidents resulted in fatalities.

Unfortunately, a new study suggests that a number of these accidents may involve known DUI offenders who weren't adequately punished. According to this research, many habitual drunk drivers may repeatedly receive misdemeanor charges instead of facing escalating sanctions.

Prior convictions overlooked

According to The Edmond Sun, the legislative study found that many repeat DUI offenders aren't appropriately punished because they were not convicted in "courts of record." Oklahoma has 77 district courts of record, two municipal courts of record and 354 municipal courts that aren't courts of record. Unfortunately, a significant number of DUI cases are tried in municipal courts.

In courts that aren't designated courts of record, proceedings are not recorded. As a result, drunk driving convictions may be overlooked when the same offenders are charged with DUI again later. This may leave other motorists in significant danger of accidents involving these offenders.

Dangerous drivers

Mothers Against Drunk Driving states that repeat offenders play a role in about one-third of alcohol-related accidents, injuries and deaths. Measures to keep these people from driving impaired appear to be most effective at reducing recidivism. For example, MADD states that up to 75 percent of DUI offenders drive despite license suspension. In contrast, when offenders use ignition interlock devices, recidivism falls 67 percent.

Unfortunately, repeat offenders who aren't properly charged face shorter periods of incarceration and mandatory ignition interlock use. As a result, they may return to their dangerous habits sooner. Troublingly, the study found that repeat offenders who were previously convicted outside of courts of record frequently are not charged with felonies later.

Potential solutions

Lawmakers have proposed a few measures that could address this problem. The creation of municipal courts of record that exclusively handle drunk driving cases could result in the proper recording of all DUI convictions. Alternately, the requirement that all DUI cases be sent directly to district court could ensure that all information is taken into account when repeat offenders are punished.

Unfortunately, until such measures are implemented, the risk of accidents involving these drivers may be significant. The Edmond Sun notes that, by some estimates, over 100,000 drivers are arrested for DUI each year in Oklahoma. If MADD's figures are reliable, over 30,000 of these drivers are repeat offenders who may only receive minor punishments.

Seeking help

Sadly, statistics suggest that alcohol-related accidents will harm hundreds of Oklahomans and visitors to the state this year. It's important for the victims of these accidents to understand the legal remedies that may be available. After obtaining medical attention, these victims may benefit from consulting with an auto accident attorney about the possibility of pursuing compensation.