In Wichita, Kansas, a four-time DUI offender hit and killed a mother and her child. Gary Hammitt had a valid driver’s license when he was arrested last week and charged with running over and killing a Wichita woman and her 4-year-old daughter outside Gardiner Elementary School. Many citizens are outraged that the man was even legally allowed to have a license and the ability to drive around, but Kansas does not terminate a driver’s license until the fifth conviction. In fact, Kansas law offers the same punishment up to four times which involves offenders getting their license suspended for one year followed by a year of driving with a restricted license.
Criminals who refuse to take a blood alcohol test, or who take the test and record a level of 0.15 or higher receive higher penalties. Most members are not surprised that Gary Hammitt has not received any significant punishment or restraint due to the laws, and that is part of the reason they are asking for change.
“I am telling you that there are people in this community who are outraged,” said Mary Ann Khoury, president and chief executive of the DUI Victim Center of Kansas. “We have had nothing but phone calls from people who are just angry.”
But those familiar with state DUI laws said Hammitt’s case is typical for multiple DUI offenders. They said they weren’t surprised to hear he was driving without restrictions just five years after his fourth DUI conviction.
State Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, who has worked closely with DUI laws as a defense lawyer and as a legislator, said he expects this case to “be quite a driver” for new legislation.
Journey said he expects next year’s Legislature to reconsider a proposal that would double the minimum sentences for DUI offenders. Rather than serving a minimum two-day jail term, a first-time offender would have to spend four days behind bars.
Surprisingly, the proposal was rejected last year after sheriffs complained that they didn’t have the jail space.
Journey said he also expects to hear from those who think it would make sense to impose lifetime license suspensions on all third-time DUI offenders. He said he couldn’t support such a proposal.
“It’s easy to be mean on criminal justice issues; it’s much harder to be smart,” he said. “No change in the law is going to change what happens in this case.” But a suspended license for a chronic offender just isn’t enough.
Since first reporting on this story, Gary Hammitt was sentenced to prison and the Kansas Legislature has many changes to the state’s DUI laws.
For more on the new DUI laws, click here.
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