DUI delays endanger public safety

Published 5:21 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An opinion of The Picayune Item

Picayune’s municipal court was the scene Wednesday of a befuddling and scary series of DUI cases that had accumulated against a single defendant over 21 months without resolution.

The delays, we’re told, were due to requests for trial continuations by the defendant, Troy Lawson, and the prosecutor. They were granted without question time and again by the court.

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Now, that might not bother you — until you consider that Lawson’s first DUI arrest was on May 6, 2009, and that before that was finally settled this week, he was arrested six more times for DUI.

In other words, he was driving on local roadways and endangering the public safety for nearly two years before a court decided it was time to deal with the problem. It was fortunate nobody got killed or injured given his impaired driving record.

But that’s only part of this puzzle. He pleaded guilty in court Wednesday to two of the seven DUI charges against him — and both were listed as first-time offenses. That meant he got the minimum punishment under the Mississippi DUI law even though he was obviously a serial offender.

Three of the other DUI charges against Lawson were dismissed because city prosecutor Gerald Patch said the arresting officers had been terminated by the Picayune Police Department and not available as credible witnesses. Patch sent the remaining two cases to District Attorney Hal Kittrell for possible prosecution as felonies.

All of these cases, by the way, were listed for the past 21 months as first time DUI offenses for the reason none of them had been disposed of by the court until Wednesday. Thus arresting officers had no official record upon which to list them as second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh violations — enough, upon conviction, to put Lawson in prison for up to five years, seize and sell his car and suspend his license to drive for years.

Something is significantly wrong with a system that allows an impaired driver to motor about the community after he has been cited repeatedly for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In Lawson’s case, police indicated it was drugs, not alcohol, though they also arrested him four times for “public drunkenness” in the same, 21-month time frame.

Oh, yes, and Lawson’s wife, Roslyn, was arrested three times between Jan. 2 and April 30 of last year on first-offense DUI and twice on public drunkenness charges. She pleaded not guilty to the first DUI when it occurred, and had the other two dismissed Wednesday because of fuzzy circumstances surrounding her subsequent arrests.

The Lawsons’ DUI record is enough to scare anyone who drives or walks on the same streets, roads and highways with this couple.

Why the local prosecutor’s office and the municipal court allowed this string of cases to build up without action is a question that needs to be answered. It can and should not happen again.