- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

OMAHA, Neb. | A Texas man arrested on suspicion of first-offense drunken driving posted a $200 bond and walked out of a Nebraska jail without facing a judge.

But this wasn’t his first DUI arrest, or second, or even his third. It was 44-year-old Robert Hood’s fourth DUI arrest in three states in less than two weeks.

Mr. Hood, of Caldwell, Texas, also is known as Earl Hood. He was charged as a first-time offender under Nebraska law and allowed to pay 10 percent of the $2,000 bond because officials had no inkling of the other pending DUI charges.

That’s because the FBI-run national computer system used by states shows only those people who have been fingerprinted when arrested. And the arrests of some suspects, such as Mr. Hood, can go undetected if they are not fingerprinted or if the information is delayed getting into the system.

In Mr. Hood’s case, the system did not show his recent DUI arrests - one in Wyoming, two in South Dakota.

That lack of information is allowing repeat DUI offenders across the country to easily post low bonds and go on their way.

It alarms court officials.

“If judges are made aware of other pending charges, it could justify a higher bond to [ensure] the person appears in court,” said Sarpy County Judge Todd Hutton, who sits on the bench in suburban Omaha. “The judges make their decisions based on the information they are provided. They can’t act on information that is not brought to their attention.”

Judge Hutton said that if prosecutors know a defendant has other pending charges, it could justify a higher bond.

John Fitzgerald, a state’s attorney in Deadwood, S.D., one of the places Mr. Hood was arrested, said the same problem exists in his state.

“The more [DUIs] you get, the higher the bond,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “When you see someone who repeats something so dangerous, the bond can get pretty high, even if it’s a misdemeanor.”

To make matters worse, officials in most states don’t often know about other pending charges against a defendant within their own borders.

In Nebraska, people charged with a first-offense DUI do not have to have a formal hearing, but can instead pay bond according to a schedule, said Deputy Otoe County Attorney Tim Noerrlinger.

But the FBI is hoping a new national system, still in the pilot stage, will alert authorities when a defendant has multiple DUI offenses pending in other states.

The National Data Exchange or N-DEx for short, is designed to link local, state and federal records, said Tom Bush, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal justice information services.

N-DEx was designed to search, link, analyze and share criminal justice data including arrest and incident reports, incarceration data, and probation data nationwide.

N-DEx takes 360 data elements seen in incident reports today and puts them into a master form. Agencies can then search individual or multiple elements, said Kevin Reid, N-DEx program manager.

Participation by all states will be gradual, with the goal of having the nationwide system in place by 2010, Mr. Bush said.

Submitting and receiving information from N-DEx is voluntary, Mr. Bush said, but the FBI is convinced that such voluntary programs will work, citing NCIC and a fingerprint database.

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