Lucas pleaded guilty to 1988 OWI, records show

By Dave Stafford | Aim Media Indiana

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State District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to misdemeanor charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident, also pleaded guilty to a prior drunken driving charge in the 1980s, The Republic has confirmed.

Judgment was withheld in that case, however, and the record does not appear in law enforcement databases, sources said.

Lucas, a Republican from Seymour, has insisted he will not resign after he pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his May 31 crash into guardrails on Interstate 65 at the State Road 11 interchange, after which he fled the scene, drove his severely damaged truck 3 miles and was found walking before his arrest by Seymour police.

On June 12, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation and other terms in Jackson Superior Court II.

“This is a standard plea agreement for a first-time operating while intoxicated case, and the defendant is also pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and agreeing to pay restitution for all property damage he caused,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jeff Chalfant told the court during Lucas’ sentencing earlier this month.

But records obtained by The Republic show this was not the first time Lucas pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge. On Aug. 1, 1988, he entered a guilty plea in the former North Vernon City Court to a charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Lucas did not reply to multiple messages Thursday seeking comment.

The records from 1988 show Lucas was arrested by North Vernon police at 1:19 a.m. July 17, 1988, after he was stopped for driving left of the center line on State Street. Lucas, now 59, was 24 at the time of that prior arrest.

An affidavit for probable cause obtained by The Republic shows that during Lucas’ 1988 arrest, a North Vernon police officer reported Lucas had an odor of alcohol, his eyes were bloodshot and his manual dexterity and balance were poor.

The officer administered two field sobriety tests that Lucas failed, the affidavit says, and a test showed Lucas’ blood alcohol level was 0.15% — one and a half times the 1988 legal limit of 0.10%.

Drunken driving penalties have increased significantly since Lucas’ original arrest. When Lucas pleaded guilty to OWI in 1988, records show, it didn’t leave much of a trail.

Lucas was ordered to pay a $500 fine plus program fees and court costs totaling $303. He was given no jail time or probation, and his license was not suspended. Further, the “special terms” on the one-page “plea agreement and/or sentence” document Lucas signed reads, “Will not be certified to BMV/withheld judgment” (sic).

“I have seen this language before in other jurisdictions,” Chalfant wrote in an email. “We do not use this language in Jackson County. This language means that there was no judgment and therefore no criminal conviction in this case.”

“If a court never enters judgment, then there is no conviction,” Chalfant wrote. “Mr. Lucas’ BMV record and the other databases … do not show that any prior conviction for OWI exists. The plea agreement in Mr. Lucas’ current case is a standard offer for first-time OWI offenders with the addition that he also did plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident.”

In an interview with The Republic earlier this month, Chalfant said a prior conviction would have altered his approach to Lucas’ plea negotiations. Asked Thursday if knowledge of Lucas’ prior guilty plea would have resulted in Chalfant approaching plea negotiations differently, he replied:

“This 35-year-old arrest did not result in a conviction. I do not increase punishment for prior charges without convictions. I would have made the same agreement had I known this information.”

Lucas, whose district includes portions of Jackson, Bartholomew, Scott and Washington counties, pleaded guilty earlier this month to operating a vehicle while intoxicated, a Class C misdemeanor, and leaving the scene of an accident, a Class B misdemeanor.

The plea agreement came the same day Chalfant’s office filed the charges against Lucas from the May 31 incidents with the matter going from charges being filed to sentencing in fewer than eight hours.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Lucas received a 60-day suspended jail sentence and one year of probation as well as a 180-day suspended jail sentence and one year of probation. Lucas’ driver’s license also was suspended for 60 days with the exception of being permitted to drive only for the purposes of business in the counties where he has customers between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays.

Lucas also will pay an estimated $3,929.62 in restitution and other fees and submit to an alcohol and drug abuse program for evaluation.

He also may not possess or drink alcohol, and he may not possess any firearms or deadly weapons during his probationary period.

The day he pleaded guilty earlier this month, Lucas called into an Indianapolis political radio talk show to broadcast an apology but to also insist he would not resign.

He said on WIBC’s Hammer and Nigel Show, “One bad decision shouldn’t, should not weigh on a person’s, um, you know, integrity or their capabilities for the rest of their life. I mean, we all make mistakes, guys. … I’ve made a stupid mistake, got caught, I’m paying the price for it and I want to move forward.

“… Nobody was hurt, thank God, and that, that’s one of the things I do want to point out, and um, I own this, guys,” Lucas said on the radio program. “But there are people out there that have done, unintentionally, things that I have done and have hurt or killed innocent people or hurt themselves. I was fortunate that none of that happened, and thankfully, nobody, no innocent people, you know, got hurt or, thank God, got killed for me to learn perhaps, I mean without question, the most important lesson of my life.”

Prior to obtaining official records of his arrest and guilty plea, The Republic asked Lucas earlier this month if he had a prior OWI arrest based on a published arrest record in The Republic in 1988 that matched his name and age.

The lawmaker repeatedly declined to comment, but he also declined to deny a prior arrest when given multiple opportunities. At one point, he asked, “Can you prove it?”

Told that The Republic was investigating and planning to publish records that suggested Lucas may have a prior arrest for OWI — and that the newspaper may potentially report on this and other issues based on news tips from readers — Lucas grew combative during a June 15 phone interview.

“This is a witch hunt by The Republic, and The Republic is obviously desperate to make themselves newsworthy, and the only thing you guys are doing are showing your true colors by continuing on this path. … This is pathetic gutter journalism,” Lucas said.

“I’d like for you guys to discover some morality a little bit,” he said. “You’re jumping on hearsay and rumors and you’re trying to make a front-page story out of hearsay and rumors.”

Andy East contributed to this report.