Police Cpl. Cal Strong noticed the strong smell of alcohol when he pulled over Scott Furney, 35, the night of Feb. 18, Police Chief Wayne Payne said.
Strong had clocked Furney at 43 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone on Big Ridge Road.
Furney refused a breath test, so a warrant was secured to draw his blood. Furney was at first charged with second-offense DUI. But those charges were upgraded Tuesday to a felony — fourth-offense DUI.
Strong documented three previous DUI convictions against Furney — two in D’Iberville in 2010 and 2011, and one in Gulfport in 2012.
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In Mississippi, a third DUI is a felony for anyone with two convictions if the first two DUI charges occurred within the previous five years. A third offense carries a sentence of one to five years. House arrest is often an option.
On Oct. 1, the law changed to make a fourth offense, no matter the time period involved, a felony punishable by a minimum prison sentence of two years, with a maximum of 10.
Gulfport City Prosecutor Richard Smith said Furney’s third DUI most likely was not prosecuted as a felony because law enforcement was unaware of the first two convictions. With multiple agencies on the Coast, law enforcement officers say, tracking DUI records can be hard.
Smith, who became the city’s full-time prosecutor in 2015, said one employee now spends most of her time running more-thorough background checks on DUI offenders.
“DUIs and domestic violence cases are my two most intensive cases,” he said. “They’re the ones where people die.”
He said the number of first-offense DUIs is down in Gulfport because the misdemeanor conviction works as a deterrent for most drivers. But there are those drivers who keep getting behind the wheel when they are intoxicated.
“We’ve got to start escalating the punishment,” Smith said. “If deterrence doesn’t work on the first one, we have to start enhancing punishment so people don’t die.”