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A Step Forward

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Utah's legal community has an effective new tool to help in the battle against drunken driving.

It is a guidebook of sentencing guidelines for DUI offenders.

The Utah Sentencing Commission spent a year putting it together with the hope of providing "the best information available concerning sanctions and interventions for DUI offenders."

The guidebook is a significant step forward in the ongoing effort to keep drunken drivers off Utah's highways. It is to be applauded. But, to hand down fair and effective sentences, judges need more than mere guidelines. Foremost, they need access to more complete information about past drunken driving convictions . . . and that, regrettably, is still hard to come by in Utah.

Take the case of Walter F. Downing, for example. A judge last month sentenced Downing to prison – the first time he's received that harsh penalty even though he has a record of at least 21 drunken driving arrests over a 32-year period. Somehow, until now, he slipped through a maze of bureaucratic glitches. And that, in this technological age, is inexcusable.

Yes, the new DUI Best Sentencing Practices Guidebook signals progress, but until more effective steps are taken to keep better records and assure they are readily and reliably accessible, far too many repeat DUI offenders will remain a threat on Utah's highways.

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