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June 2012
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STEP TAKEN License plate seizure for repeat DUIs prudent

We typically stay out of races for countywide office and we're not about to change that tradition now. But from time to time issues arise in those races that merit comment.

One such issue came to our attention over the past week. It involves enforcement of a provision of state DUI laws that calls for confiscating the auto license plates of repeat-DUI offenders, generally defined as people who have two (or more) DUI convictions for offenses occurring within a five-year period.

That provision was not being enforced in McCracken County. The issue was raised by attorney Jeremy Ian Smith when he filed earlier this month to challenge incumbent District Judge Chris Hollowell in this year's election.

Hollowell, who began overseeing traffic court at the beginning of this month, says that practice changed as of last week. He said the license plate sanction is a fallback provision of the DUI law that had previously been inadvertently overlooked by local district judges.

Hollowell says the repeat-offender provision of the law primarily calls for requiring ignition interlock devices, which require drivers to breath into an alcohol sensor before a car will start. Those devices are not generally available in this market, he says, and the failure to enforce the fallback sanction of seizing the license plates had been an oversight on the part of the local courts.

Regardless of what may have happened in the past, we think it is appropriate and important that local judges enforce this provision for repeat-DUI offenders. Someone who gets two DUIs in a five-year period is virtually never an infrequent drinker who gets exceptionally unlucky. It is almost always someone with an alcohol problem who is undeterred by such sanctions as fines and license suspensions, and thus presents a recurring danger to the public.

The idea of the license plate seizure is to keep people like that off the roads. A police officer patrolling in traffic has little way of knowing whether an individual driving a car has had their license suspended unless the driver gives the officer a reason to stop him or her and check. But if an officer sees a car in traffic without license plates, that in itself is an offense that can result in arrest, and as such it is a much stronger enforcement tool.

It's not foolproof. As Hollowell points out, the person subject to the sanction could always transfer title of the car to a relative or friend, although that can be difficult if there are car loans and associated liens involved.

On the flip said, there are hardship provisions in the law that allow family members to use an offender's car if loss of use would cause them to lose a job or incur other types of harm. All of that makes sense.

While the Sun did not do an extensive survey, a check with neighboring Marshall County shows that the license plate seizure provision has been regularly enforced there, and we suspect that is the case in most Kentucky counties.

The fact it was not being done previously in McCracken County appears to have been the result of an honest mistake. But the provision serves an important purpose and needs to be enforced.

While at times it may seem that little good comes out of the political process, the fact that this problem was brought to the public's attention and quickly remedied shows that's not always the case.

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