Proposed bill strikes his passion

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 01:55 PM

Rep. Nathan Baskerville has already been a primary sponsor on six bills in his first session, but one in particular is drawing out his legal passion.

The Henderson attorney was asked by fellow Democratic Rep. Pat Hurley of Winston-Salem to join her on House Bill 31. The bill seeks to strengthen laws against habitual driving while impaired offenders.

“It amends the habitual DWI law to in effect say, if you’ve ever been convicted of habitual DWI, you can be in the future,” Baskerville said from his office Friday morning.

Currently, those convicted of driving while impaired three times within 10 years can be convicted of a more serious habitual offense if getting a fourth within that 10-year window. When prior DWIs in the 10-year window are two or fewer, a conviction for DWI is not subject to a habitual charge until there is again three in the 10-year window.

For example, a person convicted of DWI in 2001, again in 2002 and again in 2003 would be subject to a habitual charge if convicted a fourth anytime through 2010. If the person was convicted of DWI a fourth time, coming in 2010, then the person would face a habitual charge. Carrying forward, if the person got another DWI conviction in 2012, there would be no habitual charge because the convictions in 2001 and 2002 would be outside the 10-year window.

“The way I was looking at this thing, if you’re habitual DWI, in other words already convicted of three priors and habitual, you ought to be convicted of habitual DWI at any point,” Baskerville said. “Often times, people get convicted when they have three and they kill somebody.”

It was exactly that scenario, Baskerville said, which led Hurley to act. The House passed the bill by a 108-10 vote.

House Bill 40 has also passed and moved across to the Senate. It changes the habitual law to the third conviction in 10 years rather than waiting for a fourth.

Both bills are now in the Senate.

“They ought to be able to be convicted again,” Baskerville said. “I thought it was reasonable. It is a bipartisan bill. We have two Republican primary sponsors, along with me and another Democrat. I thought it was a way to close some of these loopholes from my experience as a prosecutor and a defense attorney.”

Baskerville said information was obtained on the potential impact to prisons, and the finding was favorable to allowing more teeth into the law

“We’ve done the fiscal impact of how it would impact incarceration,” Baskerville said. “If they’re convicted, they’ll pull at least 12 months in prison. They’re going to go to jail. We got the impact from Department of Corrections that they can accommodate that.”

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.