Incomplete Data Allows Repeat DUI Offenders to Walk Free
By: Mary Ann Pekara
Court officials are alarmed that gaps in the FBI computer system used by states can allow repeat DUI offenders across the country to post low bonds and walk free - and even to continue to drink and drive.
The FBI computer system shows information only about people who have been fingerprinted during the booking process after being arrested. The Associated Press reported that surprisingly, some suspects are not fingerprinted, and in other cases a delay in getting information into the system can cause prior DUI arrests to go undetected.
In Nebraska, a man was recently arrested on suspicion of first offense DUI was allowed to pay 10 percent of his $2000 bail and walk out of jail without going before a judge.
Robert Hood, also known as Earl Hood, had been arrested for DUI three other times in three states during the previous two weeks. When Nebraska officials accessed the FBI system, Hood's previous DUI arrests did not show, and he was charged as a first time offender under Nebraska DUI laws.
Records indicate that Hood was arrested for DUI in Mitchell, South Dakota after an officer found him passed out in his car. His blood alcohol content at the time of this DUI arrest was 0.26 percent. He posted a $500 bond and was on his way.
Three days later, Hood was arrested for DUI in Deadwood, South Dakota. His blood alcohol content at the time of this arrest was reportedly 0.184 percent. His DUI arrest in Mitchell was not yet entered into state records, so he was charged with a first-offense DUI. He posted another $500 bond and was again released.
The very next day, Hood was arrested for DUI in Platte County, Wyoming. His blood alcohol content during the arrest was measured to be 0.160 percent, and he was charged with another first-offense DUI.
He was found guilty of first offense DUI in Wyoming and sentenced to six months unsupervised probation, credited with two days that he spent in jail and paid a $580 fine.
Three days after being found guilty of DUI in Wyoming, Hood was arrested for DUI again in Otoe County, Nebraska. His blood alcohol content at the time of this arrest was 0.081. He posted the $200 bond and was released.
Hood is now on the run, after skipping multiple court dates. There are several warrants for his arrest.
Judge Todd Hutton of Sarpy County, Nebraska says that if judges are made aware of other pending DUI or criminal charges, a higher bond could be set in order to ensure that the suspect will either stay behind bars or return to face the charges in court. Obviously, judges can only make determinations based on the information provided to them, so missing data in the FBI computer system is a problem.
In Deadwood, South Dakota, a state's attorney echoes Hutton's sentiments. John Fitzgerald says that for repeat DUI offenders, the bond increases for each offense; however, if no one is aware of the previous arrests, repeat offenders are treated as first time DUI offenders.
In Nebraska, first offense DUI suspects are not required to have a formal hearing and can pay a bond based on an established schedule. For this reason, Hood was able to pay a $200 bond and leave jail.
New National FBI System
The FBI has started a new national program that will alert law enforcement when a suspect has multiple DUI offenses pending in other states.
The National Data Exchange, or N-DEx, is currently in the pilot phase. N-DEx was designed to link local, state and federal records to provide more complete information to law enforcement officials. The program will search, link, analyze and share nationwide criminal records, including arrest and incident reports, incarceration data and probation data.
N-DEx extracts 360 data elements from incident reports and puts them into a master form. Law enforcement agencies can then search on individual or multiple elements. The goal is to have the nationwide N-DEx system in place by 2010.