During debate on Georgia’s drunken driving laws, state Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) pointed out that if caught shoplifting four times in Georgia, the offender is eligible to be punished as a felon.
“But,” he said, “if you get caught six times with a DUI, you are not a felon.”
Georgia remains one of the few states without a felony DUI statute. House Bill 336, sponsored by state Rep. Kevin Levitas (D-Atlanta), would change that.
It creates a felony-level DUI for repeat offenders who rack up four convictions within 10 years and mandates that repeat offenders serve at least 90 days in jail. Current law treats a fourth DUI as a misdemeanor.
As a former prosecutor, Levitas says he worried more about the dangers to the general public posed by drunken drivers than by murderers. “Sadly, in murders the people often knew each other, but there is a randomness to a DUI where a car suddenly comes across the lane of a highway and hits someone going to church or school.”
Levitas cites research that on average, people drive drunk 87 times before being caught in a DUI. “It’s appropriate for the fourth conviction to be a felony,” he says.
HB 336 not only increases fines and jail time, it requires a clinical evaluation and any necessary treatment upon a first conviction, which law does not now demand.
“My goal is that no one ever gets to a fourth offense,” says Levitas. “But after three times where you have been convicted and received treatment and evaluation, if there is a fourth time, we have to have public safety foremost in our minds.”
The legislation is endorsed by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and the state District Attorney’s Association.
“If you have someone who is going to drive drunk and you’ve had them in state court three times already, it’s time to get their attention,” says Lowndes County District Attorney David Miller, on behalf of the association.
“We can actually change people’s lives with a bill like this.”
Maureen Downey, AJC.com (Atlanta Journal Constitution)