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Loopholes allow serial DUI offender to avoid felony charge

TAMPA — Stacy Slabach, a felon and habitual traffic offender, landed in jail in February on a driving under the influence charge.

She picked up another DUI arrest on April 15.

And yet another four days later.

Despite her three DUI arrests in as many months — and a previous conviction for driving under the influence back in 2000 — Slabach won't face felony charges for the latest allegations.

That's because state law requires two prior convictions, including one within the past decade, to bump a third DUI charge up to circuit court. Arrests don't play into the equation.

"This lady right here is a loophole because she's getting them back to back to back," said Douglas Covington, misdemeanor bureau chief for the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office.

Don't blame legislators for goofy lawmaking just yet. Stetson University College of Law professor Charles Rose said a few people inevitably fall through the cracks of a system that is relatively fair for most.

"You can't escalate an offense because of prior conduct that hasn't been adjudicated yet," he said.

Still, one local activist is frustrated that, until recently, Slabach had driving privileges.

"Everyone in the community is a potential victim with people like this driving," said Linda Unfried, cofounder of Hillsborough's MADD chapter.

Records show that the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles suspended Slabach's license after her Feb. 22 arrest. She registered a 0.177 blood-alcohol level, the arrest report said. Under state law, a person is presumed impaired at 0.08.

It was the eighth time the state had suspended or revoked her privileges since 1998.

In this instance, however, Slabach secured a temporary permit by requesting a hearing for a hardship license, spokeswoman Ann Howard said.

That hearing took place on Wednesday, and the administrative hearing officer has seven working days to decide whether to uphold the suspension. The officer considered only Slabach's Feb. 22 arrest, not her previous driving record.

The hearing's outcome is likely to be moot once this month's arrests hit the driving department's database.

Slabach's refusal to submit to breath tests on April 15 — when a sheriff's deputy reported finding her asleep in her car while stopped on railroad tracks — and again on Monday should result in automatic suspensions and make her ineligible for any kind of license, Howard said.

Slabach, 29, can't drive right now anyway. A judge revoked bail after her Monday arrest. Authorities also tacked on 10 counts of introducing contraband to a detention facility after finding loose prescription pills in her purse.

A bond hearing is scheduled for next week.

Slabach and her attorney, Marc Makholm, declined to comment Thursday.

Slabach has spent time in prison for cocaine possession, burglary and introducing contraband to a detention facility. She also has been found guilty of prostitution, and possession of heroin, cannabis and drug paraphernalia.

She received 12 months of probation after pleading guilty in 2000 to a misdemeanor charge of DUI with property damage.

If she's convicted in the current DUI cases and gets a fourth arrest for driving drunk, prosecutors could automatically charge her with a felony. And four DUI convictions result in a lifetime driver's license revocation in Florida.

For now, her DUI cases will remain in county court. Even if prosecutors manage to convict her of the February offense, they couldn't use that to pursue felony charges for the April arrests, Covington said.

Under Florida's complicated DUI laws, the third offense must occur after the date of a second conviction in order for it to count toward a felony prosecution.

"We can't felonize her right now," Covington said. But "we'll be asking for jail, I know that."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Loopholes allow serial DUI offender to avoid felony charge 04/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 23, 2010 12:21am]

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