published Sunday, July 6th, 2014

DUI law to curb addiction takes effect

It won’t take a DUI to be treated like a DUI offender in Tennessee.

A new law, inspired by tragedy, will reduce the possibility of criminal substance abusers endangering the public, help Tennesseans beat addiction and ease the burden on overcrowded jails, supporters say.

The legislation made it through the Tennessee General Assembly and was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in March. It became law July 1.

House bill 1759 or “Amelia’s Law,” gives judges the option of slapping a transdermal substance monitoring device onto any offender if the local district attorney says alcohol or drugs contributed to their unlawful conduct.

Proponents of the law believe expanded use of the monitors will help prevent encounters like the one that killed Amelia Keown on U.S. Highway 411 in Maryville, Tenn,. in August 2012.

While high on drugs and out of prison on parole, John Perkins, a man with a drug-riddled past, crossed the center line in his vehicle and struck Keown.

She died from her injuries and her family began a crusade to mandate that a closer eye be kept on documented alcohol or drug users who could pose a danger to others.

State Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, a sponsor of the bill, believes the new law achieves that goal while keeping the targets of it out of already-crowded prisons.

“What that law will do is give our judges and our probation and parole departments the tools of modern technology to guarantee the folks on probation are sober,” Lamberth said.

The monitors are already used to an extent in Tennessee. They automatically test the alcohol or drug content in a person at least once every 30 minutes and can upload the data wirelessly for parole officers to examine.

And Cotton says the technology, combined with treatment options, gives substance abusers a chance at long-term sobriety that regular probation or sitting in a prison cell cannot offer.

A fiscal note for the bill mentions a potential increase in state and local tax collections to fund increased usage of the devices.

Costs associated with the expanding technology are the the only concern of Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond.

“It still won’t pay for itself because you’ve got to have people to monitor it, there’s electronics to be bought, used and repaired,” Hammond said. “But if it will curb what I call the most egregious offenders, I’m for it.”

Another related law entered the books Tuesday as well.

The DUI Recidivism Reduction Act requires mandatory jail time for second and third-time DUI offenders and requires treatment before release. In that law, parole officers and judges will also have the option to extend probation periods and issue offenders a monitor following their release.

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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