The penalties associated with drunk driving in Kansas are set to become steeper under legislation that appears set to go into law. If signed by Governor Brownback, the new legislation would allow those who are convicted of injuring someone in a drunk driving accident to face felony aggravated battery charges as well as drunk driving charges.

Under Kansas law, misdemeanor battery is knowingly or recklessly causing injury to another person, while felony battery is knowingly or recklessly causing serious bodily injury to another. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled 15 years ago that a defendant could not be convicted of aggravated battery simply because the defendant had injured someone while driving drunk. The court held that driving drunk may constitute reckless driving, but that does not automatically mean the driver recklessly caused serious injury. In order to qualify as aggravated battery, the court said, the driver must realize that other people were in immediate danger. The proposed legislation would erase that distinction.

Supporters of the bill say that the change is needed to mete out stricter punishments to those who cause severe injuries in drunk driving accidents. They point to cases such as one in which a victim lost both his legs when a drunk driver slammed into him, but the driver was convicted only of a misdemeanor DUI. Convictions on DUI offenses can mean driver’s license suspension, fines and, in some cases, significant jail time. And the penalties seem to go up regularly. Those who have been charged with these crimes need a strong defense strategy.  

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