Terry Burton, Mississippi State Senator, arrested for DUI with .14 blood alcohol level

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Terry Burton
Mississippi State Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Burton. Image: Oktibbeha County Jail

Republican Mississippi State Senator Terry Burton was arrested for driving while intoxicated outside Starkville in the week before Christmas. The Senate President Pro Tempore has been twice previously charged with a DUI.

Burton’s arrest report, published for the first time on Friday, shows he had a blood alcohol level of 0.14% – well over the state legal driving limit of 0.08%.

Terry Burton: “I truly believe this is a misunderstanding.”

On the evening of December 19th Burton’s Chevrolet pickup truck was found in a ditch by the Mississippi Highway Patrol shortly after 9 pm on US Highway 82 near Starkville.

According to Burton’s initial statements he claimed his car had become stuck while he was trying to enter a nearby gated community to have dinner with friends. When the State Trooper found him he said he was waiting on a tow truck.

“I know firsthand what it is like to make a mistake and to accept the consequences for those mistakes,” Burton said in a statement to the media. “I respect and applaud law enforcement for always erring on the side of caution. I truly believe this is a misunderstanding.”

After posting $992 in bail Burton was released. Almost immediately he faced calls for his resignation from his position as Senate President Pro Tem. Despite being a key ally of Burton, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves was among those calling on him to stand down.

“The lieutenant governor has made it clear to Sen. Burton that he believes he should relinquish his leadership post,” his spokesperson Laura Hipp said in a statement on December 21st.

Terry Burton’s blood alcohol level revealed

Thanks to a public records request by the Jackson-based Clarion Leger, the report from Burton’s arrest was made public on Friday.

According to the report, the arresting officer “could smell the odor of intoxicants,” and Burton “admitted to drinking.”

After testing positive for alcohol in a preliminary test Burton was taken to the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department where a breathalizer test was administered. Burton’s blood alcohol level was registered at 0.14% – nearly twice the state limit of 0.08%.

The recent arrest was the third DUI charge made against Terry Burton. In 2014 he was pulled over and claimed he had only had a few drinks, but had forgotten taking a prescription pain killer. He pleaded guilty the next day in court.

In 2016 Burton failed a breathalizer administered after he crashed into a stop sign. He claimed the result was a false positive, caused by the NyQuil he had just taken to relieve irritation in his throat (caused by the deployment of the airbag). Burton was acquitted.

If Burton is convicted of a second DUI offense, he faces a minimum $600 fine, ten days of community service, and five days in jail.

Mississippi law makes skirting the minimum penalty for a second DUI difficult. “The minimum penalties shall not be suspended or reduced by the court and no prosecutor shall offer any suspension or sentence reduction as part of a plea bargain.” (Mississippi Code 63-11-30)

Just getting the minimum might be considered a good result for Burton if he is convicted for a second time. The maximum penalties are a $1,500 fine, a year of community service, and a year in jail.

DUI offenses are not without recent precedent among state lawmakers. Texas State Representative René Oliveira was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated in April. He was arrested at home after fleeing the scene of an accident.

A month earlier Ohio State Representative Wes Retherford was found passed out at the wheel of his car in a McDonald’s drive through. A loaded handgun was found on a passenger seat.

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