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DUI laws getting tougher

RELATED: See more crime news from the Fredericksburg region

The law is soon going to come down harder on repeat drunken drivers.

Beginning Monday, Virginia law will make certain repeat driving under the influence offenses a felony, and impose a mandatory jail sentence.

The current statute allows some repeat offenders to face only misdemeanor charges for subsequent alcohol-related offenses, even if they were previously convicted of incidents in which people were seriously injured or killed.

To Spotsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bill Neely, the new law is a smart change.

“The DUI enhanced penalties make sense because it seems silly for someone who’s been convicted of a felony DUI to drop all the way back down to a misdemeanor DUI when he commits another one,” Neely said this week.

The state law, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Norment, R–Williamsburg, and Del. Rick Morris, R–Carrollton, includes a key change that strikes the clause dictating that subsequent offenses must occur within a 10-year period after the initial conviction.

Now a subsequent DUI offense following certain similar convictions will be Class 6 felonies.

The punishment for the felony will be a mandatory one-year jail sentence, a minimum fine of $1,000 and a five-year driver’s license suspension.

The new law will impact those previously convicted of a third or subsequent DUI; involuntary manslaughter DUI; DUI offense in which someone is maimed; boating under the influence in which someone is maimed; BUI involuntary manslaughter.

Kurt Erickson of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program said the new law “ratchets up the seriousness of the crime.” It means harsher penalties on those who “cause a disproportionate amount of carnage” on roads, he said in an interview.

“As repeat drunk drivers are over-represented in fatal crashes where alcohol was a factor and that DUI convictions are actually on the rise in Virginia, this new law is both welcomed and necessary,” Erickson said.

He cited recently released statistics from the Virginia Department of Transportation showing that 229 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes on state roads last year. According to the statistics, there were also more than 28,700 drivers convicted of DUI last year.

As far as cutting down on DUI recidivism, Neely said it will take time to see if the new law helps.

“I think people are always going to drink and drive as long as they have automobiles and alcohol,” he said. “All we can do is control it as best we can.”

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436


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