Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine said Monday that he will push for tougher penalties against repeat drunken drivers, joining legislators and others who have called for changes in the wake of recent fatal crashes.
Kaine made the announcement on the steps of the courthouse where repeat drunken driver Roy Lee Everett was sentenced Friday to 14 years in prison for killing a high-school honor student in May.
Both of Kaine’s proposals would target third-time drunken drivers.
If they have two DUI convictions, are stopped again and refuse to take a blood or breath test, they would face one year in jail. The current penalty for refusing to be tested is a one-year driver’s license suspension. The mandatory jail sentence for third-time drunken drivers would increase from 10 days to one year.
Repeat drunken drivers know the system, Kaine said, and know what penalties they are likely to face if picked up again. Neither 10 days in jail nor the loss of a driver’s license is much deterrent, he said, and drunken drivers can sometimes avoid a third DUI conviction simply by refusing to take the test.
“Usually if you’re driving drunk you don’t mind driving on a suspended license,” Kaine said. If passed by the General Assembly, the new penalties would be “a powerful disincentive,” Kaine said.
Kaine said Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney John R. Doyle III pointed out weaknesses in the criminal system that repeat offenders exploit. Neither man mentioned Roy Lee Everett by name, but his case highlighted some of the loopholes.
Everett had surrendered his driving privileges after previous DUI convictions, so he had nothing to lose by refusing to take a blood or breath test. That refusal denied prosecutors evidence of his intoxication that might have led to a murder charge. Everett pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and other charges.
While Everett’s case might be emblematic of problems, Kaine and Doyle said, he was not the sole impetus for the changes.
“There is a hard core of repeat offenders, people who aren’t afraid of a suspended license,” Kaine said.
Kaine said he will introduce the legislation to the General Assembly in January. If passed, it likely would take effect in July.
Lawyer Jeffrey Stredler represents the family of Landon Chambers, the 16-year-old boy killed by Roy Lee Everett. The family has long hoped something good could come of Landon’s death, he said.
“It sounds like they’re moving in the right direction toward making the roads safer for everybody,” Stredler said.
Leaders of area Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapters said the measures will close loopholes that let repeat offenders beat the system.
“It’s been a long time in coming,” said Michael Goodove, president of the Southside chapter of MADD, which includes Norfolk. “You’ve seen a shifting of penalties for DUI but no shifting for hard-core repeat offenders who know the system very well.”
Dick Jackson, president of the Peninsula chapter of MADD, said the new laws should have an effect on drunken driving in the long run.
“If we had had this a few years ago, maybe Mr. Everett wouldn’t be sitting there,” with a 14-year prison term, Jackson said.