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Ironton tops in state for DUI convictions

If someone is charged with driving under the influence in Ironton, 97 percent of the time they will be convicted of that crime - tying the highest DUI conviction rate in the state.

A recent study by the Washington Court House Record-Herald found that 2002 conviction rates for DUIs vary significantly across the state. Earlier this month, the legal blood alcohol content changed from .10 to .08.

Statewide, an average of 65.2 percent of the people charged with DUI end up being convicted on that charge.

Municipal courts in Ironton and Willoughby had the highest percentage of conviction rates at 97 percent. Chillicothe had the lowest at 25 percent, followed by Youngstown at 30 percent, according to The Associated Press.

Some of the lower conviction rates may be attributed to the fact that some court systems routinely reduce DUI charges to offenses such as reckless operation, Ironton Municipal Court Judge O. Clark Collins Jr. said.

"If you have been charged with DUI here and the case can be proven, it will stay a DUI," he said. "I just do not think reductions (in charges) are appropriate. It waters down the law and sends a message that you do not get an appropriate penalty. The law is there and the public expects it to be enforced fairly for everyone."

The Ironton court hears an average of 250 DUI cases each year.

"I attribute the high percentage of convictions to the efforts of the law enforcement agencies along with the court strictly enforcing the law,"

Collins said. "I am proud of the 97 percent and being top in the state, but the important thing is we are removing drunk drivers from the road.

"We have to treat DUIs seriously. I cannot think of anything more heartbreaking than to lose a son, daughter or loved one to a drunk driver."

Lt. Carl Roark, commander of the Ohio State Highway Patrol's Ironton Post, said the main reason for non-convictions has nothing to do with what the officers did, but is a result of plea bargains.

"I have worked out of (four) different posts in the state. I think we are fortunate in this county to have a justice system that is fair, and if the evidence is there, a DUI stays a DUI," Roark said.

Because of large case loads, many court systems routinely reduce DUIs so that more severe criminal cases can be heard. Enforcing the law strictly serves as a deterrent and may make someone think twice before getting behind the wheel, Roark said.

For Judge Collins, the bottom line is to educate people about the severity of the crime and to deter people from ever getting behind the wheel while intoxicated because this is a crime that can be prevented.

He added that he would be happy with a zero percent conviction rate if that meant there were no DUIs to hear.

Above all, Collins said, every case is judged on its own merits and the majority of the DUI cases enter guilty pleas from the start.

"It does not make any difference who someone is, we try to treat everyone fairly and enforce the laws consistently," he said. "I think we have done that."