DUI and still driving: The loophole that lets convicted drivers behind the wheel

Courtesy of WIAT

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — In the early morning hours of August 5, 2015, 49-year-old Allison Elliott crossed the busy Highway 280 in Birmingham, Ala. That’s when police say Michael Terry Canty, a Tuscaloosa man, hit her and left the scene. Elliott later died.

Law enforcement officials say Canty fled the scene, and he was later charged with leaving the scene of an accident and tampering with evidence. However, a WIAT investigation shows that Canty had other serious charges on his record, dating back nearly a decade.

Courtesy of WIAT
Courtesy of WIAT

Those include two court appearances for drunk driving, a DUI conviction and guilty plea, and a charge for driving a vehicle with an open container of alcohol. However, records indicate Canty was driving with a license on the day he is charged with hitting Elliott.

The WIAT investigative team set out to find out how that could happen. We turned to the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office for answers. The DA could not speak specifically about Canty’s case, because it is still open, but they did speak with us in a more general way about the challenges of prosecuting DUI’s.

“They’ve taken away the district attorney’s ability in some of these cases to argue for imprisonment,” said Shelby County Assistant DA Alan Miller.

Miller tells us the laws surrounding DUI cases recently changed, making it more difficult to punish someone who has multiple DUI charges.

“The second DUI offense requires you to spend five days in the county jail. The third DUI offense in a five-year period requires you to spend sixty days in the county jail. If you commit a felony DUI, under the presumptive sentencing guidelines, you are not required to serve any jail time whatsoever,’ said Miller.

A felony DUI is classified as four or more DUIs and a five year period. Miller says that’s a change, too. The law used to mandate four or more DUIs over a lifetime of driving would result in a criminal record.

Shelby County District Attorney Jill Lee says the new sentencing guidelines passed by the state legislature this year are aimed at easing prison overcrowding.

“It’s very frustrating for me. It is very frustrating, I am certain, for others in the justice system. I am sure it is likewise frustrating for folks who have to make our laws and deal with prison overcrowding,” Lee told us.

We wanted to hear directly from Canty, so we went to the home address listed in court records. When we reached the house, we were told Canty was not home, but his stepfather, Bobby Miller, was.

Miller told us Canty did not know he had hit Allison Elliott on the day Canty is charged with hit-and-run. He told us Canty told him about the accident the day it happened.

“He said I was going to work over there on Highway 280, and I hit a dadgum deer,” said Miller.

We reached out multiple times to Canty’s attorney Jason Neff, who is listed as his lawyer in court records. Neff, however, would not return our calls or meet with us when we came to his office.

For Allison Elliott’s family, the pain will never go away. Her father, Larry Beard, was recovering from heart surgery the day he found out about her death.

“It’s kind of hard to talk about her, but, you know, she was my baby,” Beard said.

Beard says he does not believe Canty should have been on the roads legally the day he is charged with hitting Elliott and leaving the scene. He says he will miss his daughter every day.

“She was just a beautiful, smart, talented young lady,” said Beard.

Michael Terry Canty’s case is set to go before a grand jury early next year, according to court officials. WIAT will continue to follow this case.

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News. All rights reserved.

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