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Anderson among state's toughest on drunk drivers

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County trails only Shelby in conviction rate

By BEN CARLSON

Former UK basketball coach Billy Gillispie wasn’t the first to find out that drinking and driving in Anderson County nearly guarantees a conviction, and he certainly won’t be the last.

Anderson trails only Shelby County in DUI conviction rate, and only by the narrowest of margins, according to statistics compiled in a joint effort between the Kentucky Transportation Center and UK College of Engineering.

Between 2004 and 2008, Anderson sported a 92.3 conviction rate, one-tenth of a percent behind Shelby’s 92.4.

By contrast, Leslie County has a conviction rate of 42.4, the lowest in the state.

Local police and the county attorney’s office are quick to credit each other for making sure drunk drivers don’t walk out of court scot-free.

“Everybody plays a vital role,” said County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis, whose office prosecutes nearly all DUIs in Anderson County. “We have to have good, well-trained police officers to have successful prosecutions.”

“Our county attorney is tough,” said Sheriff Troy Young. “She does a great job and treats everyone the same.”

One key factor is communication between Lewis’ office and local police. Lewis said she provides annual training for the sheriff’s office and Lawrenceburg Police Department on changes to DUI law to ensure they are as up to speed as possible.

“Any time there is a new legal update, she will meet with us, review it and make sure we understand it,” Young said. “She has also invited us to a training seminar in December to be updated even moreso.”

Not that Lewis doesn’t receive her fair share of training as well. She is a member of a group that trains new prosecutors each year, and helps devise a DUI scenario to teach them the ropes.

“We go over the law with a fine-tooth comb,” she said. “It keeps me on my toes.”

Lawrenceburg Police Chief Tommy Burris, a retired state trooper, said technological advances have given officers and prosecutors an invaluable weapon in their arsenal.

“In-car video cameras provide some very compelling evidence,” Burris said. “They log everything that was said and every action that was taken.”

Burris said all the technology in the world means nothing, though, without open lines of communication with the prosecutor’s office.

“That’s the number one thing,” he said. “If they need something they tell us, and vice-versa.”

Lewis said it’s no coincidence that Shelby and Anderson are so close in conviction rate.

“It says a lot about the judges in the 53rd Judicial District, because we’re both part of that,” she said.

Not all judicial districts have it so good.

Leslie County Sheriff Paul Howard said the low conviction rate there is likely the result of not having enough judges.

“We probably make as many DUI arrests as anybody, but we have only two judges that have to cover three counties,” he said in a news article in the Nov. 27 edition of The Sentinel-News in Shelbyville. “We are a small county about 14 miles from Hazard, and we are just a six-man department.

“But the thing is, no matter how many arrests we make, the buck stops at the courtroom.”

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.