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In the weeks following Brianna Taylor’s death and the subsequent aggravated DUI charge levied against Michael Todd Hilton, questions have arisen as to why the charge is a first offense and not a seventh, as his record indicates.
Hilton, 34, of Irvington, also is charged with murder for his involvement in a June 22 fatal crash that killed Taylor at the intersection of Deckard School Road and Patriot Parkway. Mickayla Harig, 18, Taylor’s passenger, and Anthony Kyle Hilton, 34, Michael Todd Hilton’s passenger and twin brother, also were injured in the crash and taken to University Hospital in Louisville. Harig is listed in stable condition and Anthony Hilton was treated and released June 27.
County Attorney Jenny Oldham, who sees most DUI cases at the district court level, said she shares in the frustration, but said ultimately the responsibility to not break laws lies with each individual.
“He got significant jail time and it didn’t change him,” Oldham said. “It’s hard when you hear the system failed. I don’t think you can say the system failed. People see it as a failure because of the outcome, but the responsibility lies with the individual.”
Oldham said her office takes the crime seriously because of its possible consequences.
“We know every DUI offender is a possible killer,” she said. “What happened was 100 percent predictable and 100 percent preventable. That’s why it’s tragic.”
According to Kentucky Revised Statutes, a maximum penalty for a first offense is a $500 fine and 30 days in jail. The maximum sentence for a third DUI offense within five years of the first is a $1,000 fine, 12 months in jail and 12 months community labor. All DUI offenders have to attend alcohol and drug education classes.
Most jury verdicts in Hardin County give the maximum sentence to those convicted of a DUI third offense, Oldham said, but in most cases where it is a first offense DUI, juries only give fines. Pleas offered by Oldham’s office are consistent to what juries recommend as a sentence in trials.
“I think it speaks to people wanting to be compassionate and give second chances,” she said. “The community’s voice is reflective in jury verdicts.”
According to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris McCrary, DUI convictions cannot be “upcharged” after a five-year period, as in Hilton’s case. McCrary also added DUI convictions do not fall off an offender's record because the offenses cannot be expunged and most convictions contain a driver’s license suspension. For a first offense, licenses are suspended for 120 days. For a fourth offense in a five-year period, a license is suspended for three to five years.
“If someone has a history, our office makes it a point to have their license suspended for a while,” he said. “However, a license being suspended does not always stop people from getting in their car and driving.”
Oldham said very few DUI offenses go to trial and with a plea agreement comes a requirement to attend a Victims Impact Program, sponsored by Oldham’s office.
Offenders attend the program for one evening for three hours and they hear from a DUI victim’s panel who have lost loved ones to DUI.
“It lets them hear the emotion,” Oldham said. “I don’t know if it’s a lasting effect, but we think it works.”
The last time her office measured the program’s impact, only two people were repeat offenders, Oldham said. The program has been in effect since October 2007.
“At exit interviews, their words are telling us it works,” she said.
Because Hilton’s last DUI offense came in 2006, he would not have attended this program, Oldham said.
But the best measure to prevent DUIs, Oldham said, is community activism — reporting erratic drivers and taking keys from friends who have had too much to drink.
“It’s so preventable,” she said. “There’s not a lot of crimes where we can prevent it before it happens. We can change this one.”
Gina Clear can be reached at 270-505-1746 or firstname.lastname@example.org.