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ArkLaTex In Depth: DWI Repeat Offenders - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

ArkLaTex In Depth: DWI Repeat Offenders

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DWI cases usually come across defense attorney Christopher Hatch's desk after an arrest. If his client gets to him before cuffs are tightened, mug shots are taken, and charges are filed then he has some advice.

"My advice for a person who is being stopped for a DWI is to be polite, to be cooperative, to comply with all the officer's requests to provide any information that's asked of them by the officer," Hatch says. "A separate question is whether one of my clients should participate in field sobriety tests or not," which Hatch says he does not recommend his clients

In Louisiana, a DWI- first offense conviction carries a fine between $300-1,000, as well as up to six months in prison.

But attorneys say judges will often show leniency by suspending the imprisonment in favor of 32 hours community service, defensive driving courses and DWI awareness class.

For the second offense, defendants see higher fines a possible $750-1,000, as well as imprisonment between 30 days and six months. Two of those days are mandatory, but if the rest of the sentence is suspended, a defendant can expect 240 hours community service.

"Here recently, it's been common... people getting arrested for their second offense," says Cpl. Jason Lowe, Bossier City Police Dept. "They don't learn anything from the first one."

Lowe says he's seen as many as 12 drunk driving arrests on a person's record, but because the state clears a DWI conviction after ten years people often will cap at two or three at any given time.

"It doesn't become a felony until the third offense," Hatch says. "The third offense is when a DWI offender is really, really facing some harsher penalties."

The third DWI conviction carries one to five years imprisonment, and one year must be served.

Lowe says this is a threat that becomes reality far too often.

"I've arrested a guy for his first, second, and third [DWI]," Lowe says. "I've done firsts [and] seconds for quite a few people."

A fourth DWI conviction- and any after that- comes with a 10-30 year sentence. Some of the sentence can be suspended, but two years are mandatory.

While sentences can last up to three decades, the reality is rarely so strict. Authorities say prison overcrowding means offenders often get out early and are able to regain a license, hitting the streets again.

"I'm not familiar with any situations that resulted in a permanent license suspension," Hatch says. "Maybe I haven't represented anybody whose been in that much trouble for drinking and driving. If there's a penalty that's that extreme, I'm not aware of it."

Although Hatch hasn't heard of anyone being permanently banned from driving, Lowe says the state does have the authority to seize and sell a repeat offender's car in some cases.

2012 FBI Crime In the United States Report - Driving Under the Influence Arrests:

State     DUI Arrests         State Population    
Arkansas 9,226 2,949,131
    Louisiana     5,259 4,601,893
 Texas     85,436 26,059,203

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