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Bill could offer 2nd chance after DUI charge

Legislator seeks to erase ‘scarlet letter’ if offender stays clean for 5 years

POSTED: January 29, 2012 12:01 a.m.

One too many drinks nearly cost Justin Blackstock a chance at living out his dream job of teaching English.

In September 2010, the Gainesville State College student was pulled over by police for a busted taillight. But when the officer approached the car, the taillight was the least of Blackstock's worries. The few drinks he had that night put him just over the legal blood-alcohol content limit and he was arrested on DUI charges.

Blackstock said he couldn't help but think his chances of ever teaching may have ended from one bad decision.

"I was very much afraid of that," he said. "Some people are better understanding than others, but it's better to not even have it to worry about."

If it weren't for the decision of a judge to reduce the charge to reckless driving, Blackstock would still be faced with that possibility.

"I told (the judge) that I wanted to be an English teacher and the judge's daughter was an English teacher," he said.

Blackstock recalled the judge saying, "I could actually see you having a very hard time getting a job if you don't get that off your record."

Although Blackstock had his charge reduced, others in similar situations are not as lucky. A proposed bill in the legislature, however, could benefit those who only have one such blemish on their record.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Rusty Kidd, R-Milledgeville, could erase a first offender's DUI charge if he or she goes five years without a single driving infraction.

"It's basically giving individuals a second chance if they stay clean," Kidd said.

Currently, a DUI conviction stays on a person's record for employers to see. That offense could prevent the person from obtaining certain jobs or acceptance into college and being awarded scholarships, Kidd said.

Kidd recalled an instance where a high school student was offered a glass of wine by his prom date's parents. He later was arrested for DUI because his blood-alcohol content registered on a breathalyzer. But had he been age 21, the student would not have been considered drunk under the state's standard of 0.08 blood-alcohol content.

It's that situation and others similar that gave Kidd motivation to pursue the bill.

"It's frustrating for somebody who might make that one mistake, or had one glass of wine as a minor and you register anything (on a breathalyzer) ... because the penalty for DUI is worse than robbing a bank," he said. "It gives people an opportunity to learn from their mistake."

After having a firsthand scare, Blackstock said he supports the bill because that one incident could have plagued a variety of employment goals.

"Absolutely, I think that bill is a great idea," he said. "Nobody wants a scarlet letter on their sweater for their entire life."

Gainesville attorney Sonny Sykes said DUI offenders should suffer stiff consequences, but he would support providing second chances in certain situations.

"DUI is not a good thing because people that drive under the influence could possibly take somebody's life, including my own, or yours or one of our children's lives," he said. "However, I have known people that have one DUI that never have another because they get so embarrassed and it costs so much money to deal with it."

"We don't want to take away a person's right to achieve something in life just because he made one mistake," Sykes added.



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