DUI repeat offenders could face tougher penalties

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 2/22/19

A new bill is making its way through the Tennessee Senate which will impose tougher penalties for habitual DUI offenders. Senate Bill 683, sponsored by state Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) …

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DUI repeat offenders could face tougher penalties

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A new bill is making its way through the Tennessee Senate which will impose tougher penalties for habitual DUI offenders.

 Senate Bill 683, sponsored by state Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) whose district includes a portion of Bradley County, proposes convicted drunk drivers be incarcerated a minimum of 11 months and 29 days for a second charge.

Under current law, a second DUI sentencing consists of serving 45 days in a county jail, unless a judge orders an offender participate in a substance abuse program. The completion of such a program reduces the sentence by 25 days.

Additionally, according to the bill's summary, the legislation will enhance "the penalty for second and third convictions of driving under the influence to a Class E felony with a minimum sentence of 11 months, 29 days" and "increases the minimum sentence for fourth and fifth convictions to 11 months, 29 days."

Under current law, a third conviction results in 120 days in a county jail. Similar to a second sentence, a judge may order an offender to participate in a treatment program, which could reduce the sentence by 65 days.

Gardenhire told the Cleveland Daily Banner that he and members of the General Assembly have been trying to pass  legislation that would increase DUI penalties for several years. However, the longer sentences would cost the state more money.

Projected expenditures, according to the bill, are expected to cost the state $44 million per year.

"That may be a stumbling block," said Gardenhire, who added that the bill has been sent to the finance committee.

He said the bill has also been introduced in the House, but has not yet received a hearing.

The legislation, also referred to as "Dustin's Law," is in honor of Dustin Ledford, a Cleveland man who was killed in 2010 when a drunk driver crashed into his vehicle as it was speeding in the wrong direction on APD 40.

The woman, Tiffany Isaza, received an eight-year sentence in 2011 and was paroled in 2016.

Late last year, Isaza was arrested for driving under the influence and was later ordered by a court to wear an ankle bracelet that detected if she consumed alcohol. 

Last month, a Bradley County Criminal Court judge revoked her bond after it was determined during a hearing that Isaza had consumed alcohol in December and January. 

Isaza's DUI hearing is scheduled for Monday, March 4 in the Bradley County Criminal Court.

Gardenhire said he could not comprehend the horror of losing a child, especially in a situation that could have been prevented. 

He also said he wants to pass the bill for the parents of Dustin, Kim and Danny Ledford.

"We've been trying to pass this bill out of respect for the family," Gardenhire said. "We hope we can get it done."

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