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DUI records still vanishing

Jessa Lynn Hunn was arrested on a drunken-driving charge a month after her 21st birthday in July 2002. She pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of alcohol-related reckless driving in Salt Lake Justice Court in September — but six months later, Hunn's conviction is still nowhere to be found in the state's criminal identification system.

Troy Dean Drysdale, 23, was arrested Aug. 25, 2002, on a drunken-driving charge. He pleaded guilty to DUI in Salt Lake Justice Court on Oct. 3. Although court records note proof of the conviction was sent to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) Oct. 24, Drysdale's conviction fell through the cracks somewhere.

Five months later, it does not show up on the BCI computer system.

Jesus Flores, 51, was arrested Oct. 10, 2002, on DUI charges. He pleaded guilty in Salt Lake's Justice Court.

"We don't show dispositions on any of those people," said Bruce Brown, a BCI manager.

Problems continue to plague computer routes that deliver vital information about Utah's drunken drivers to those who charge, prosecute and punish them.

The problem has recently shown itself among drunken drivers convicted in Salt Lake Justice Court, which is noteworthy because one-third of the state's DUI charges go through that court.

Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson became aware of concerns last week and immediately sent an e-mail to Salt Lake City's administrative judge, Zane Gill.

"He is taking a look at it," Anderson said. "You'd think in this technology age we would be able to get it figured out."

But at this point, no one has.

A Deseret News random survey of DUI offenders convicted in Salt Lake Justice Court since the court opened its doors in July reveals a king-size breakdown in communication between the court and BCI. None in a group of several DUI offenders who had been convicted and sentenced showed up in BCI's records — and both parties say they aren't at fault.

"As best as I can tell, we did not receive the dispositions," Brown said.

"We are reporting manually to BCI and we can prove it," said Gill. A disposition about each DUI charge before the court is sent to BCI by fax machine, and the offender's file is marked to show that the fax has been sent.

Over at BCI, a check of the Deseret News' selected group of convicted offenders' files shows no faxed copy of anything, Brown said.

And BCI officials can't prove they aren't getting what they need from the justice court.

Although BCI technology staffers were trying to run a computer program to determine how many faxed copies they'd received from Salt Lake Justice Court since July, they couldn't produce the information in one week.

BCI's director, Nannette Rolfe, said those kind of special requests take time.

Whoever is at fault, the dispositions aren't showing up, which could mean huge problems for an official trying to determine whether a drunken driver has one or more convictions.

"If that's the case, then obviously it's a problem," said Paul Boyden, director of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors. "Clearly, that isn't desirable."

The fact that the new court is having problems makes Art Brown, president of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, angry. To properly punish someone who drinks and drives, officials have to be able to tell how many times they've done it, he said, and the state is responsible for guaranteeing an accurate, reliable computer system.

"They better get this fixed or they are going to have a huge public safety problem on their hands."

"It's been a systemic challenge since the inception of the justice court," said Sim Gill, chief prosecutor for Salt Lake City and no relation to the judge. "But I'm hoping the challenge is due to the transitional period of the courts."

"It is a broken system," said Judge Zane Gill. "But from our side we can't do anything more. If something is broken on our end, we'll be on it faster than a duck on a June bug."

The way information about Joe Drunk Driver is now delivered seems inconceivable in these technology-rich times.

Joe Drunk Driver is arrested by the police. They fingerprint him and send notification of his arrest to BCI. BCI opens a computer file on Joe's arrest. Joe is charged, goes to court and is convicted. In the Salt Lake Justice Court — and in several others throughout Utah — a hard copy of Joe's conviction is then faxed to BCI.

BCI clerks match up that disposition information with the open arrest file. Many are entered into the system quickly, but a great many are not.

In fact, BCI has a five-drawer filing cabinet full of dispositions waiting to be entered. There have been rumors that BCI is backlogged by a year. In some cases, says Suzanne Briscoe, a BCI manager, dispositions may be backlogged more than that.

"That goes back to the '90s," Briscoe said. "There could be tens of thousands in there."

The trouble comes in one of a dozen scenarios described by Nannette Rolfe, head of BCI.

If there is more than one Joe Drunk Driver or Joe's birthday is off by a month or a day — the disposition goes to the bottom of the stack.

If there's a delay getting information on an arrest and a conviction comes in on an arrest that isn't in the BCI system, the disposition goes to the bottom of the stack.

If there isn't a good fingerprint for Joe from the arrest or the conviction record, "We can't attach it — and it goes to the back of the stack," Briscoe said.

But DUI has become a priority, Rolfe said, and BCI is trying to catch up. And there are never enough employees to do the work. One person hand-inputs the court dispositions like those sent by Salt Lake Justice Court.

Still, Daniel Contreras-Zamora, 22, was arrested Aug. 23, 2002, on a drunken-driving charge. He pleaded guilty to DUI, but his conviction is not listed with BCI.

Rolfe has said the agency is receiving some notifications of dispositions. The court, although brand new, isn't required by law to transmit information electronically. It will have to do so by next February, according to Gill.

"We look forward to that day when all justice courts have automated systems," Rolfe said.

Salt Lake Justice Court Administrator Mary Johnston called the electronic transfers a "high priority."

The new computer system has been a bear, Gill acknowledges.

But that has nothing to do with accusations that the court isn't correctly sending dispositions to BCI.

"We feel really bruised and abused in this process," said Gill.

The city spent $5.8 million to buy and renovate the Salt Lake Justice Court building southeast of City Hall at 333 S. 200 East.

As it opened in July, justice court proponents — most notably Anderson — touted the court's benefits, faster disposition on class B and C misdemeanor cases. A justice center closer to the community and its patrons. Money for the city.

The broken communication system has come into the spotlight in recent years as repeat DUI offenders have made headlines again and again. Experts have discovered case after case where information about a drunken driver's prior arrests and convictions were not properly recorded or delivered to the main database.

After nearly two years of analysis, legislation and discussion, Rolfe says progress is being made. "But there are three steps to the process, the arrest, the prosecuting side and the court, and then there's us," she said. "At any one given time, the ball could be dropped in any of those steps."