About Me

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Tifton, Georgia, United States
Joe Kunes is a Personal Injury and Criminal DUI/DWI defense Attorney in Tifton, Georgia. He has been practicing law in Tifton and the surrounding counties since 1972. He is a graduate of Tift County Schools, the University of Georgia, 1969, B.A., and University of Georgia Law School J.D., 1972. In 40 years of practice in Tifton he has handled all areas of the law, but now restricts his practice to criminal defense and personal injury work. The majority of his criminal practice relates to the defense of drinking drivers, not only in Tifton, but all over South Georgia. His personal injury practice includes representing plaintiffs injured in automobile accidents and medical malpractice cases in Tifton and surrounding counties. He is a member of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (Vice President in 2000), American Trial Lawyers Association (sustaining member), National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD), and the Georgia Defense of DUI Drivers (D.O.D.D.).

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Audit: Georgia driver records system flawed

    Georgia is at risk of losing $30 million in federal highway funds and jeopardizing public safety because of erroneous or incomplete information in its driver records, a new state audit shows.
Among the problems is that dozens of courts either don’t report traffic, drug and stolen vehicle convictions to the Department of Driver Services or are slow in reporting them. As a result, dangerous drivers may be able to stay on the roads.
    Georgia also allows license suspensions for DUI offenses to be wiped off of driver records, if the charge does not result in a conviction. That is contrary to federal law, which considers deleting such license suspensions as “masking.” A federal law enacted this past summer requires this issue to be resolved by 2015, auditors reported this week.“At current funding levels, approximately $30 million could be at risk,” the audit says.

Among the audit’s other findings are:

• Officials from 28 courts told state auditors they had reportable convictions that had not been forwarded to DDS. Many indicated they were unaware of the reporting requirements.

• State law requires courts to report offenses within 10 days of the conviction date. About 300,000 of the million convictions processed last year did not meet this requirement. As a result, state driver records are not up to date with convictions, points and license suspensions.

• When DDS detects errors in conviction records, it returns them to the courts for corrections. Last year, state officials identified 58,650 such records that needed corrections. As of August of this year, 53,449 had not been resolved and resubmitted.

• Auditors also were concerned DDS does not have policies about which of its employees can change or delete information on driver records. “Without sufficient access and regular monitoring, the database is vulnerable to unauthorized changes, such as personnel inactivating a conviction or license suspension from the driver records,” the audit states. Other states conduct periodic reviews of employee activities to investigate potential fraud, the report said.

• Driver records also are marred by some inaccurate addresses, missing and inaccurate case numbers for convictions and missing blood alcohol levels, used to determine the length of license suspension for first-time DUI offenders under age 21. Omissions of critical driving violations from states where Georgia drivers previously lived also hamper identification of problem drivers, the report says.

• About 9,500 “super speeder” fine notices were returned as undeliverable between 2010 and 2011. Of those motorists, about 5,700 had not paid their fines as of April of this year, causing more than $1.1 million in fees to go uncollected.

     In its response, the department said it has worked the last five years to improve the validity, accuracy and completeness of driving records. For example, this summer it began requiring residents to provide proof of their mailing address, and it received a grant for a judicial liaison who worked with the courts on conviction reporting.
    The department told the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts the cost of implementing one recommendation – that critical violations in prior states be included on driver histories – would outweigh the expected benefits.
    “DDS noted that there is currently no mechanism for the 50 states to exchange a non-commercial driver’s history among the state jurisdictions, so that DDS could import a new Georgia resident’s driving record from the resident’s prior state,” the report said.
    DDS Commissioner Rob Mikell issued a statement Thursday, saying his agency “will continue our efforts to improve the integrity and security of our records management processes.”
    “We look forward to studying the additional recommendations in-depth as we strive to better serve the citizens of Georgia,” he said. 
    A spokesman for Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said his office is reviewing the audit and “will ask the appropriate legislative committee to review it as well in order to determine the necessary legislative action to address these findings when the General Assembly convenes in 2013.”
     Gov. Nathan Deal’s office referred questions to Mikell. An aide to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and an official with the Georgia Municipal Court Clerks Council did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
     An official with the state Administrative Office of the Courts said his agency was not involved in the audit and “has no authority over any individual court across the state and does not have the power to compel the reporting of caseload data by the courts.”
     Superior Courts handle more serious traffic offenses and drug crimes. Mike Holiman, executive director of the Council of Superior Court Clerks of Georgia, said superior courts represent a small fraction of the roughly 1,100 courts in Georgia. Superior Courts, he added, routinely report information to the Georgia Crime Information Center and state Corrections Department.
“I believe our members do report correctly,” Holiman said.

 By Lois Norder/ Atlanta Journal Constitution

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