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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- By next month, all 138 justice courts are to be linked to the Utah Department of Public Safety database in reporting drunken driving cases.
That means those misdemeanor courts will be able to check intoxicated motorists for prior convictions.
The database link was mandated by the Legislature because an offender often was able to plead guilty and be sentenced without a justice court judge having any knowledge of prior DUIs in other jurisdictions.
"Repeat DUI offenders become very savvy to the system," said Susan Burke, director of the Utah Substance Abuse and Anti-Violence Coordinating Council.
"While I don't think they would actually decide to drink in a community just because they hadn't been arrested there yet, they would be aware of the likelihood of being seen as a repeat offender in certain communities," she said.
A study by Burke's office found 73 percent of all DUI charges were filed in justice courts in fiscal 2003.
Drunken driving, normally a class B misdemeanor, becomes a felony on the third offense, potentially punishable by a prison sentence.
"It's one of the most significant things we've done," Rep. Dana Love, R-Syracuse, who gets involved regularly with DUI legislation, said of the new justice court capabilities. "There is still more work that needs to be done."
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)