Some say Tennessee DUI laws too lax when it comes to fatal crashes

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee people who kill other drivers during a DUI crash have a chance of getting off without serving a significant sentence behind bars.

Every 19-year-old has hopes and dreams, but for Mark Wilson, his dream of being a firefighter disappeared in a second.

“You’ll hear a song, or you’ll see someone. Like if I see someone 19 or 20 with the same sort of build, it’s like, ugh. He’d be 26 now, and I don’t know what he would look like,” said Mark’s mother Connie Wilson.

In 2007, a drunk driver killed Wilson.

“We heard him cry out for someone help him. He was dying,” said Connie.

Wilson said her son was a sober passenger in a Mustang and was trying to help the driver who had been drinking.

The Mustang crashed killing the driver of another car and sending Mark to the hospital where he would later die.

“I heard the Sarah McLachlan song ‘In the Arms of an Angel,’ and I knew this isn’t something I can fix. This isn’t something I can control and then we got our call an hour later. So I just knew,” said Connie.

Something else Wilson couldn’t control was what happened to the driver who survived.

Brittney Petty entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge and was sentenced to a few months served, and is now on probation.

Assistant District Attorney Michael McCusker blames state laws for short sentences,
“It’s possible that you can go out, get completely drunk and kill someone and get probation.”

State guidelines recommend an 8 to 12 year sentence for most first-time offenders, but it also gives the judge discretion to reduce the time, and prosecutors to make a plea deal for an even shorter sentence.

Petty killed someone and only served a few months.

That’s a lot shorter sentence than a lot of robbers and other violent criminals.

“Presently, our governor is looking at how we can restructure our sentencing act so we can have truth in sentencing. The time is right for individuals in Tennessee who want to change the law or affect how people are pushed under the law to lobby both their state senators and the governor’s office,” said McCusker.

State Representative GA Hardaway agrees it is time to look at DUI laws and sentencing guidelines, but he argues letting judges use discretion is also important.

“Some judges want to have more restrictions on how much judicial discretion they have and some don’t. We need to be conscious to use sentencing as a deterrent,” said Hardaway.

“DUI is avoidable. There are a lot of things that cause death, but when someone makes and irresponsible decision then there should be some accountability,” said Wilson.

As lawmakers consider taking up the changes once the session starts in January, the Wilson`s have to wait for what they feel is true justice.

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