For habitual DWI offenders in St. Charles Parish, it’s now three strikes and you’re out – of your vehicle.
St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne and parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson announced a collaboration to enforce stricter penalties for third time (or subsequent) offenders, including the seizure and impounding of the offender’s vehicle, citing a clause in Louisiana’s DWI law that was created years ago, but was not widely known.
Upon a third conviction, Louisiana Revised Statute 14:98 states the offender’s car be seized, impounded and sold at auction. St. Charles Parish is among the first parishes to implement a mandatory enforcement of the statute.
“This statute has been on the books for some time, and strangely enough it’s a statute that has probably not been enforced around the state with law enforcement agencies very much since it’s been enacted, about 15 or 20 years ago,” Champagne said. “We hope it will go toward deterring chronic drunk drivers from taking to the roads.”
Convictions in other jurisdictions count toward the three time limit. A vehicle can’t be seized if it was stolen, if there’s still money owed to a financial institution or if it was owned by another person who did not know the driver was impaired.
The penalty is already in effect, as police have seized one vehicle already, while Champagne said there are plans to review other habitual offender cases from the past three months.
“Statistics show in the United States of America, 65 people an hour are killed or injured by drunk drivers. That’s horrific enough, and we all know the cost in terms of life and families being destroyed by drunk driving, on both sides of it,” Champagne said.
The sheriff added that he believes the harsher penalty will act as an effective deterrent, and that the number of convictions required is a sensible one. Champagne noted that a first-time offense can be looked at as a mistake, and a second offense in some cases is the result of alcoholism.
But Champagne said a third offense underlines a trend.
“A person that chooses to continue drinking and driving obviously needs more serious consequences to not only help protect them, but our community as well,” Champagne said.
The proceeds from the auction of each vehicle will be divided between law enforcement and the court system.
“This is not a money-making measure,” Champagne said. “(The problem) is bad enough that we need to use whatever deterrents are available to try and deter this crime which has killed so many people not just here in Louisiana, but everywhere around the country.”
Chaisson noted the parish has been out in front before on this issue – the Sheriff’s Office was among the first in the state to secure warrants for the withdrawl of blood for those suspected of DWI that refused to take a test. This, he said, was another step toward curbing a serious problem.
“We need to do more to get these individuals off the road,” Chaisson said of habitual offenders. “They’re a menace to society who endanger the lives of our citizens on a regular basis.”