Senate Bill 56 became law in Kentucky on April 9 after being signed by Gov. Matt Bevin. The law provides that the length of time that a drunk driving conviction remains on an offender’s record is now 10 years, twice as long as what had been the case. Opponents of the law say that longer look back periods punish people for up to a decade for making an isolated mistake, but supporters say that the measure addresses a notable gap in Kentucky’s drunk driving laws and brings the state into line with much of the rest of the country.
The road safety advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving says that at least 24,000 motorists in Kentucky were charged with driving under the influence in 2015. Supporters of the legislation say that many of these drunk drivers were repeat offenders and were sometimes treated too leniently because of Kentucky’s shorter look back periods. Under the old law, a second DUI charge would have been treated as a first offense if it occurred more than five years after the initial drunk driving incident.
Neighboring Tennessee has already implemented a 10-year look back period for a DUI, and some states have lifetime look back periods for those facing their third or fourth drunk driving charge. While the new law only applies going forward, some defense attorneys have voiced concerns that courts may choose to apply the new rules retroactively.
The consequences of a drunk driving conviction can be severe even for first offenders. Criminal defense attorneys may seek more lenient treatment for their clients by challenging the validity of the evidence against them or by bringing up mitigating factors during plea negotiations. DUI charges could be dismissed if toxicology tests were not conducted properly or the police officers involved strayed beyond constitutional boundaries, and prosecutors may sometimes be persuaded to reduce drunk driving charges in situations where no accidents or injuries occurred.