State’s new DUI law goes into effect today

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 1, 2000

A new Mississippi law requiring judges to impound the vehicles of people convicted of a second DUI goes into effect today.

The law requires courts to impound or immobilize vehicles owned by people convicted of a second DUI for the length of time the individual’s license is suspended — at least a year.

Some judges have expressed concerns about the logistics of carrying out the law.

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&uot;It’s obvious the Legislature didn’t give a lot of thought to how it (would) work on a day-to-day basis, although it’s a good law,&uot; said Natchez Municipal Judge John Tipton.

Once a vehicle is impounded, it can only be released if someone else in the family needs it. And in that case, the vehicle must be installed with an ignition interlock system — a system which connects a vehicle’s ignition system to a breath-alcohol analyzer.

The costs for the interlock system and the impoundment will be passed along to the defendant.

The law also requires defendants to serve five days in jail. These days can not be suspended, as they could under the prior DUI second law.

But as the start date for the law has been approaching, local judges have been worrying about problems with enforcing the law. For example, both Tipton and Justice Court Judge Charles Vess said they do not even know where to find interlock devices or who can perform the mandatory checks on the systems.

Vess said he even asked for a 30-day delay on the start of the law but he does not expect it.

Without knowing where to locate an interlock system, Vess said he will have no choice but to impound the vehicles. &uot;There’s going to be some very unhappy citizens,&uot; he said.

Vess also worries about the liability it places on the taxpayers if a vehicle is burglarized while impounded.

And &uot;locally we still have the problem of where we are going to put the vehicles,&uot; said Vess, adding he plans to stick to a rotation system among businesses which can tow the vehicles.

Vess said he thinks it is a shame the law has raised so many questions. &uot;I feel sorry for the general members of the public that’s going to get caught in this vacuum but I’m going to enforce the law,&uot; he said.

The judges also do not know how they will know how many vehicles a defendant owns and what to do if a vehicle has a lean on by a bank or lending agency.

The judges also think the law will tie up the court system since fewer people will plead guilty to a second DUI offense, Tipton said. And to avoid serving the jail time or having or their vehicles impounded more people will also file appeals, he added.

&uot;It’s going to be a long drawn process,&uot; said Tipton, who estimated the city court handles 25 to 30 second DUI offenses a year.

Tipton said he thinks the law would have been better designed if allowed the court to impound the vehicles of people arrested for driving after their license has been suspended for a DUI.