Commonwealth’s Attorney speaks out about DUIs

Published 10:19 am Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lunenburg County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Clement said the county has seen a disturbing spike in driving under the influence cases.

“In the four weeks between Oct. 14 and Nov. 4, we have had, and will have, at least 15 cases of DUI,” he said in a statement.

“This surpasses Mecklenburg County and Halifax County from what I have been told.”

The spike not seasonal, and at least four of the cases involved accidents, he said.

Clement said he hadn’t heard of other jurisdictions seeing a similar uptick, and he doesn’t know why one has occurred in Lunenburg.

“I’d like to think it is better observation by our law enforcement officers than elsewhere, but I don’t really know,” he said.

Clement said he is concerned by the increased number of cases, but, in his statement, credits “excellent law enforcement dedication, both state and local, for detecting and following up on driving behavior that indicates driving under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants.”

“This type of case is very difficult for law enforcement officers, often taking hours of an officer’s time, and subjecting the officer to intense scrutiny in court by the defense attorneys seeking a technicality to help their clients avoid convictions,” Clement noted.

“I remind the officers that it is worth it, because they are very likely saving lives by getting the drunk driver off the road.”

In what he called a “newer development that causes concern,” the county has also seen an increase in female offenders, with a third of the 15 cases involving women drivers.

“There have been at least two cases in the last year in which women had a young child in the vehicle, and have been prosecuted for felony child endangerment,” Clement said.

The General Assembly — swayed by statistics and studies indicating repeat offenders are most likely to cause the vast majority of accidents that kill and maim -— toughened such laws with mandatory jail sentences for repeat offenders, Clement said.

Penalties are also much more expensive than in the past, with mandatory fines of $250 up to $1,000, as well as loss of driving privileges for at least one year for a first offense, and indefinitely for some repeat offenders, he said.

For those convicted of a first offense who request restricted permits, he said, there is also the expense of mandatory ignition interlock – a breathalyzer device installed in the car that keeps the engine from starting if the driver is inebriated.

Penalties for refusal to submit to breath test or blood test are also tougher, he said.

A first offense results in loss of driving privileges for one year with no option of having a restricted permit for driving to and from work, or during work, but a second offense is now classified as a class one misdemeanor with a possible sentence of up to one year in jail, he said.