The Case for Tougher Kansas DUI Penalties


A case involving a Kansas DUI arrest has Kansas residents demanding a change in the state's DUI law and insisting on stiffer DUI penalties for repeat offenders.

The Wichita Eagle reported that Gary Hammitt had a valid driver's license when he was arrested for his fifth Kansas DUI.

Hammitt's most recent DUI arrest came after he ran over and killed a mother and her 4-year-old daughter outside of an elementary school. Under the current Kansas DUI laws, if Hammitt is convicted of his fifth DUI, he will lose his driver's license for life.

In addition to DUI, Hammitt has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder, one count of aggravated battery and one count of reckless driving. His bond on the murder charges has been set at $1 million.

Drivers convicted of a fourth DUI in Kansas generally receive the same penalties as second and third-time offenders. The penalty for these DUI convictions is a one year license suspension, followed by one year of driving with only a provisional driver's license. Drivers suspected of DUI who refuse to take a blood alcohol test, or who take a breath test or blood test and register a blood alcohol content of .15 percent or higher, receive harsher penalties.

The community is outraged over the deaths and the fact that Hammitt had a valid driver's license, despite his four previous DUI convictions. However, lawyers and legislators who are familiar with the DUI laws in Kansas are not surprised that he was driving without restrictions. Hammitt's fourth DUI conviction was more than five years ago.

Mary Ann Khoury, president and chief executive of the DUI Victim Center of Kansas, says that her office has fielded an enormous amount of calls from people who are angry that the current DUI laws in Kansas allowed Hammitt to drive. She expects that the Kansas Legislature will hear from many of these people next year and demands will be made for tougher DUI penalties, including longer license suspensions.

Khoury also said that she would support the confiscation of cars from repeat DUI offenders. She would like to see a mandatory registry for DUI offenders constructed, similar to the sex offender registry.

Kansas State Senator Phil Journey, who has experience with DUI laws as a defense lawyer, says that he also believes that Hammitt's case will cause a renewed push for tougher DUI laws in the state.

Currently in Kansas, first-time DUI offenders are required to spend a minimum of two days in jail. Journey says that next year's state Legislature will likely reconsider a proposal to double that minimum sentence.

Journey says that while many people think that a lifetime license suspension for third-time DUI offenders is an appropriate penalty, he would not support such a proposal. He also said that there is resistance from sheriffs about increased jail sentences for DUI offenders because of a lack of jail space.

There will be resistance to tougher DUI laws, but Khoury and others hope that state lawmakers will listen to the public outcry for change and take action.

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