Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - Updated: 9:40 AM
By Rachel Keller Collins
Information regarding an alleged correlation between alcohol sales in Marshall County and an increase in domestic violence has been circulating the community through a variety of sources including a local media outlet. Data requested by The Tribune-Courier from law enforcement statistics, however, does not corroborate any such correlation.
The misinformation apparently originated from an early Jan. session of Marshall County Fiscal Court during a discussion of the sheriff’s deputy hire when County Attorney Jeff Edwards said he had recently heard from an unnamed source at the judicial building that there had been a 40 percent increase in alcohol-related cases. He did not mention domestic violence and made no attempt to correlate domestic violence with alcohol-related cases.
The data requested by The Tribune-Courier following that Jan. meeting actually suggests DUI arrests have decreased between 2015-2016 and domestic violence arrests have likewise decreased during the same time period.
Assistant County Attorney Jason Darnall said it’s important to note there are a number of factors that play into the meaning of each set of data. For example, a DUI is not the only form of alcohol-related charge (there are also AIs—alcohol intoxication and PIs—public intoxication). DUI numbers can in fact be misleading to those not familiar with the criminal justice system. A DUI charge is issued both for those driving under the influence of alcohol and under the influence of drugs. So simply pulling the numbers of the total DUIs in a city, county or state is highly misleading because the system doesn’t record alcohol DUIs separately from drug DUIs.
Another consideration, cautioned Darnall, when pulling numbers from the clerk’s office is that a number of DUIs or felonies, for instance, doesn’t represent the number of offenders. For example, if you assert there were 823 felonies in a given year, that doesn’t translate to 823 offenders in Marshall County. The number is again, misleading, because it doesn’t take into account that the person who commits the felony, which may or may not be violent in nature, doesn’t have to live in the county; it also doesn’t take into account that often, one person faces more than one felony (or charge whether alcohol related or not)—some individuals currently face as many as 30 felonies; it doesn’t take into account the number of those charges that were amended down; it doesn’t take into account the number of those charges that led to a conviction; and it doesn’t take into account the number of charges that flowed into the current year from the previous year as the judicial system is a sticky one, meaning it often takes anywhere from six months to a year and a half (or longer) for a case to settle and fall off the docket.
Darnall said something else the average person might not take into account when viewing the DUI data is the unintended error of officers when charging during an arrest. He said an officer might charge a person with a DUI 1st offense during the arrest but once that person is booked, the county attorney’s office might find it should be charged as a DUI 2nd offense. Both of those charges, he said, feed into and remain in the total number of DUIs listed as charges for the year at the clerk’s office. And if a DUI charge is amended down to something less, it will still show in the total numbers and essentially be counted twice.
Darnall said he and some of the employees at the county attorney’s office went to the clerk’s office and pulled every DUI case and every domestic violence case from 2015-2016. From there, they examined which DUI cases involved alcohol or alcohol and drugs and which cases involved drugs only. They also examined the Assault 4th degree domestic violence (which is the lowest degree and most associated with domestic violence) files for the same timeframe and noted how many were alcohol related. He said the numbers may not be 100 percent accurate because one has to account for human error but he felt confident the numbers painted a clearer picture than others circulating the community at the moment. The data includes numbers from Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, Calvert City Police Department, Benton Police Department and Kentucky State Police.
Darnall said his data from 2015 indicated 62 domestic violence arrests in Marshall County and 23 domestic violence arrests that were alcohol related; the data from 2016 indicates 47 domestic violence arrests in Marshall County and 23 domestic violence arrests that were alcohol related.
Darnall said his data from 2015 indicated 61 DUI arrests in Marshall County and 15 arrests that were drug related only (meaning no alcohol was involved in the arrest at all); the data from 2016 indicates 36 DUI arrests in Marshall County and 12 that were drug related only.
“I don’t think there’s a viable way to study DUIs and say that going wet or staying dry has any affect on it just because there are too many variables at play; you’ve got an untold number of variables,” Darnall said. “Just consider from law enforcement, you may have two or three months where they have to divert manpower to work on burglaries. If that happens, then obviously there’s going to be fewer patrolmen out dealing with traffic offenses. If they have to divert resources to work on other cases then DUI arrests are going to drop.”
Darnall said at the end of the day DUI enforcement is “happenstance,” because unless an officer is called to the scene of a wreck, a citizen calls in and reports an inebriated driver (and follows that person until officers can catch up), it’s a matter of an officer happening upon someone during patrol who is swerving while driving down the road. And the likelihood of that happening, he said, is dependent upon how many officers are patrolling the roads.
Darnall said the number of convictions is another factor that must be taken into account when collecting and considering data. He said regarding alcohol related DUIs, if the alleged offender provided a breath or blood sample and the number is higher than .08, it’s likely bound for a conviction but if it’s lower, the charge will likely be amended to a lesser charge.
According to data provided by the Analysis of Traffic Crash Data in Kentucky (2010-2014) by the Kentucky Transportation Center and College of Engineering at UK, the conviction rate for DUIs in Marshall County tops the overall conviction rate of the state.
The state’s numbers for 2010-2014 are as follows: 152,852 Total DUI Filed; 93,821 Total DUI Convicted; 15,646 Total DUI Non-Convicted; 85.7 Conviction Percentage.
Marshall County’s numbers for 2010-2014 are as follows: 3,258 Total DUI Filed; 2,453 Total DUI Convicted; 329 Total DUI Non-Convicted; 88.2 Conviction Percentage.
*editor’s note: Data for 2015 is not available until Oct. 2017.
Darnall said what’s important for the members of the community to remember when presented with raw numbers is the various factors that play into the very complicated criminal justice system. At least at this point, he said, there’s no factual evidence supporting the idea that lifting prohibition has led to a countywide epidemic of alcohol and domestic abuse.