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Senate bill would strengthen DUI charge

Apr. 05, 2013 @ 01:00 PM

CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would stiffen the penalty for someone driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol who injures another person.

Currently, a charge of DUI causing serious bodily injury is a misdemeanor. The bill, which now heads to the House of Delegates, would make that a felony. Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, one of the sponsors on the bill, said there is zero tolerance for someone who gets behind the wheel after they've consumed alcohol or used illegal substances.

"(The bill) sends a clear statement with enhanced penalties," Jenkins said. "The Judiciary Committee clearly felt they weren't stiff enough."

The bill also is viewed favorably by Cabell County's prosecuting attorney, Chris Chiles, whose office could have a DUI causing death felony case in the near future. Michael Shane Couch, 43, is charged in a fatal head-on collision on 5th Street Hill on March 17 that killed Kenova resident Deborah Lynn Rakes. He is awaiting a preliminary hearing.

"You assume the risk (when you get behind the wheel impaired)," Chiles said. "It's a very good piece of legislation."

The bill defines serious bodily injury as that which "creates a substantial risk of death, which causes serious or prolonged disfigurement, prolonged impairment of health or prolonged loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ."

The penalty upon conviction is three to five years in prison, and, if the judge so chooses, a fine of $3,000 to $5,000.