Warren County DUI cases returned to Justice Court

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 7, 2005

[1/6/05]People ticketed for driving under the influence of alcohol in Warren County outside Vicksburg will no longer bypass Justice Court if they take their cases to trial.

County Prosecutor Ricky Johnson, who has just finished his first year in office, has instructed sheriff’s deputies and state troopers to make future DUI tickets returnable to Justice Court instead of the next level in the criminal-justice system, Warren County Court.

The change took effect Jan. 1.

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Justice Court judges have jurisdiction, but haven’t been hearing DUI cases for about six years. Johnson’s predecessor as county prosecutor, Johnny Price, who is now the judge of Warren County Court, instructed then that they be filed directly with that court because so many convictions were being appealed to it anyway, he said.

DUI charges filed by Vicksburg police are handled through Vicksburg Municipal Court and are not affected by the change.

Convictions in both justice and municipal courts will continue to be appealable to Warren County Court.

The county prosecutor may choose whether to prosecute misdemeanor DUI charges in Justice Court or county court. The first and second offenses of the crime are misdemeanors. Third and subsequent offenses are felonies and must be prosecuted in circuit court.

Johnson said he directed the change mainly to shift to Justice Court staff responsibility for the clerical aspects of tracking and prosecuting DUI defendants and penalizing those who are convicted. Many convicts must make partial payments. Fines for those convicted of DUI first offense are typically between about $600 and $650 in Vicksburg Municipal Court and $848 in Warren County Court.

“Those people are very qualified and able to” handle such tasks, Johnson said of the Justice Court staff.

If convicted in Justice Court, DUI offenders who appeal get a new trial before Price. Previously, about three of four appealed, he said.

“I ended up having to try them twice,” Price said of his experience as prosecutor.

Price said he expects fewer Justice Court convictions would be appealed now, with a main reason being improved quality of work by the court’s judges.

Johnson said the county prosecutor typically handles about eight to 10 DUI cases a month.

Convictions for misdemeanor DUI are among the more harshly punished misdemeanor crimes. State law says first offenders may be fined from $250 to $1,000, jailed for up to 48 hours, have their driver’s licenses suspended for up to a year and must be sent to the Mississippi Alcohol Education Program.

There are three justice court judges, elected from districts. Cases are assigned on a rotating basis.