'Denied. Six DUIs? No.' They keep driving drunk on the Coast and the judge didn't hold back.

After downing half a fifth of vodka at a friend's house, Misty Lee Nicole Boudreaux decided she could drive home.

More than one person called law enforcement when they saw her vehicle weaving along the road in Harrison County. The 38-year-old said she had almost reached her driveway when a sheriff's deputy pulled her over in May 2017.

"I thought I could drive home," Boudreaux recently told Circuit Court Judge Larry Bourgeois. "But I couldn't." And then she giggled.

Bourgeois was not amused. This was Bourdeaux's sixth DUI. The 38-year-old's record of drinking and driving dates back to 2004.

State courts are seeing more felony DUIs now that a law on the books since October 2016 allows prosecutors to file felony charges for a fourth DUI, regardless of how much time has passed since three previous convictions. Previously, a DUI was a felony only when a person had a third conviction within five years of the first two.

Bourgeois had a staggering five felony DUI defendants on his court schedule one recent week. And he's only one of four judges who preside in the judicial district that covers Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties.

The number of fourth-offense DUI convictions are not being tracked for this judicial district, but District Attorney Joel Smith said prosecuting repeat DUI offenders is a priority for his office.

“Our local law enforcement does a good job of identifying repeat cases,” he said. “Those are cases that we have put a priority on because habitual offenders of the DUI laws of the state are committing a preventable crime.

“I think the data would show that people who are arrested for DUI have driven drunk more times than they've been caught. It definitely makes our streets safer when you have a new law like this to make punishment stiffer for those crimes.”

Public defender Angela Blackwell represented three defendants, including Boudreaux, who pleaded guilty to fourth-offense DUI in Bourgeois' court.

Boudreaux told the judge that she had already served a jail sentence and completed rehabilitation for alcohol after her a felony DUI conviction in 2012 in Rankin County.

When she got pulled over this last time, the deputy who stopped her reported that she had bloodshot eyes and her speech was slurred. She claimed she had drunk only one rum and Coke, but her blood-alcohol level was .248 — about three times the legal limit.

The potential sentence for a fourth offense DUI is two to 10 years. Bourgeois sentenced Boudreaux to five years in prison. She had been hoping for house arrest, but the judge was unwilling to consider it.

"No," he said. "Denied. Six DUIs? No."

She said that she had served eight months on a one-year sentence for the felony DUI in Rankin County. As she was escorted from the courtroom and bound for a jail cell, the judge called out, "No barrooms, Ms. Boudreaux."

The compulsion to drink overcame a second defendant, 52-year-old Parnell Albritton. A Harrison County deputy pulled Albritton over in September 2017 on Beatline Road because one of his headlights was out.

Albritton said he had stopped after work at McDonald's, gotten himself something to eat and a Coke, poured out half the Coke and filled his cup with whiskey. He was on his way to the liquor store for more whiskey, he said, when he got stopped. The deputy told him it would be about 20 minutes before a DUI officer arrived.

"I sat there and drank the mixed drink waiting on him to get there," Albritton told the judge. His blood-alcohol level was .129.

Albritton was still on probation from a felony DUI conviction in 2016, which prompted the prosecutor's office to recommend that he serve six years in prison. Bourgeois obliged and sentenced Parnell to six years.

And then came William Edward VanDyke, 40, who was driving with a blood-alcohol level of .29.

He said he drank a 12-pack at a friend's house, also in September 2017, slept a couple of hours and thought he was OK to drive. He driving in Gulfport when his cigarette rolled under the seat and he reached down to get it while sitting at a stop sign. His car rolled forward into a ditch.

The court record showed VanDyke was too drunk to complete a field sobriety test. His DUI convictions dated to 2004. Because they were spread out, he would have been ineligible for a felony under previous law.

Bourgeois sentenced VanDyke to four years in prison.

"It's not just yourself," the judge said, "it's the people of Harrison County you're putting in danger every time you get behind the wheel. You simply can't keep doing what you're doing."

"I don't want to," said VanDyke, who has since his arrest completed a rehabilitation program that emphasizes spirituality. "I need God in my life and I received him."

Anita Lee can be reached at 228-896-2331or @CAnitaLee1
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