NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — People are getting caught driving drunk several times right here in Middle Tennessee, but our justice system often treats them like it's their first time. That's the reality of how our courts handle repeat DUI offenders.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the average drunk driver has driven drunk more than 80 times before their first arrest. This begs the question: why would a prosecutor ever let a DUI offender plead guilty to a lesser offense that would get them back on the streets sooner?
Turns out, it happens all the time. Sloane Brasher of Murfreesboro is one example. At 27-years-old, she’s been through a lot. She’s been homeless, heartbroken, and addicted to alcohol- with three DUI arrests to prove it.
“I couldn't brush my teeth or my hair unless I had a few shots to drink,” admits Brasher. “The first one I got as a minor. I was 17-years-old, I got into a car wreck in Murfreesboro and hit two other people. I ran a red light and hit them at about 40 mph,” she says, describing her first DUI arrest.
Her second happened at 20, leaving a college party at MTSU. Her third arrest was on a break at work, and Sloane's first DUI.
Her first charge got moved down to reckless endangerment, and underage consumption. Her second, a DWI, a lesser offense.
“It’s easy to look at someone's history from a top down view and say how did this happen?” says Nashville attorney Bryan Stephenson, who represents DUI offenders.
He says district attorneys allow defendants to plead down to a lesser charge usually because their case wouldn't win at trial.
“You have to remember on each case that person had a right to have the state prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and sometimes that can be a tough burden for the state to meet,” says Stephenson.
Stephenson says he helps his clients by pointing out weaknesses in the case to the DA. For example, if an officer made a bad stop, or didn't properly administer a field sobriety test. Those are the same reasons a DA would reduce the charge.
Rutherford County District Attorney Jennings Jones is no stranger to repeat DUI cases, and he's proud of the hard line his office takes on offenders, but admits- sometimes bringing drunk drivers to justice is easier said than done.
“There are instances where if a state does get blood from a defendant the blood might be suppressed in a fashion that doesn't meet the legal standard, otherwise you can have factors that don't meet standards of a field sobriety test,” says Jennings. “You could have any number of things that could go wrong in a case and make that case hard to prosecute.”
Whatever the charge or the punishment, the end goal for those responsible is the same: rehabilitation, sobriety, and safer streets.
Brasher is considered a success story. This past spring she started going to The Next Door, an addiction treatment center in Nashville.
Now eight months sober with no plans of drinking, let alone drinking and driving ever again.
“I get to see the sunrise I get to look at the Nashville skyline. Stuff like that puts you back,” explains Brasher.
The Rutherford County DA said that his office is working to crack down on repeat offenders.
He says while first DUI offenses are usually pleaded down, and any arrest after that is not.