Felony DUI Law and 2006 Legislative Update

By Geoffrey Burg and Andrea King Robertson

The 2006 legislative session is over. Much of what happened with the DUI law is about what did not happen.

Like  every session, there were many bills bantered about, but with the  exception of one, none of them passed. That one exception is the felony  DUI bill.

FELONY DUI LAW

House Bill 3317, passed into law that becomes effective on July 1, 2007, makes Driving Under the Influence or Physical Control of a Motor Vehicle Under the Influence a felony offense in specific circumstances.

A  charge of DUI/Physical Control becomes a felony if the offender has 4  or more prior offenses in the previous ten years. A "prior offense" is  defined as a conviction for DUI/Physical Control, a successfully  completed deferred prosecution, or a conviction for Negligent Driving  1st Degree, Reckless Driving, or Reckless Endangerment, where the charge  was initially filed as DUI/Physical Control. (To read more aboutprior offense in DUI sentencing read our article "When Is A 'Prior' Not Prior For DUI Sentencing? ")

A  DUI/Physical Control charge also becomes a felony for any offender who  has a prior conviction for an alcohol related Vehicular Assault or  Vehicular Homicide at any time in their past.

(PRACTICE TIP: When  negotiating plea bargains for in Vehicular Assault or Vehicular Homicide  cases, this new felony DUI bill makes it all the more important to  remove the alcohol prong).

The Felony DUI is described as a "crime against persons" and also a "felony traffic offense."

It  is ranked with a seriousness level of V, a category which includes  charges such as Child Molestation 3rd Degree, Extortion in the First  Degree, Rape in the Third Degree, and Possession of a Stolen Firearm.

Ironically,  a Vehicular Assault is a Level IV offense, with a lower presumptive  sentencing range. A non-felony DUI or Physical Control is classified as a  "serious traffic offense."

The presumptive sentencing range for a  Level V felony is 22-29 months in custody, unless there is good cause  for an exceptional sentence based on a number of circumstances. This  offense carries the possibility of up to one-third "good time" reduced  from the total sentence. The same provisions for license suspension and  IID requirements apply as in the misdemeanor statutes.

A Felony  DUI or Felony Physical Control is not an offense eligible for the  special provisions of the "First Time Offender Waiver," the "Special  Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative," or the "Work Ethic Camp."

While  the Felony DUI/Felony Physical Control offense is a Class C felony, it  cannot be vacated from a person's criminal history after five years, as  other (non-sex offense) Class C felonies. Instead, there is a ten year  period before a Felony DUI/Felony Physical Control can be vacated from  an individual's history.

The bill was really a compromise law. In  the past, most felony DUI bills were defeated because of fiscal reasons -  it would just cost too much money to put people in prison for a felony  DUI.

This bill appears to have passed because of the limited  number of people it would affect - probably somewhere around 200 people a  year, according to the fiscal note. WACDL took no official position on  this bill, though was active behind the scenes.

FUTURE DUI LAWS

It  is nearly impossible to tell what will happen in the legislature from  one year to another. However, bills introduced and bantered around  during the session give some glimpse of where the DUI laws may go.

Here are some things to keep an eye out for:

  1. An overhaul of the DUI law system. There is currently a "blue ribbon" panel commissioned by the governor looking into ways to "simplify" the DUI law.
  2. An attempt to DUI mental health deferred prosecutions that rely on a  dual diagnosis where the defendant is diagnosed as an alcohol abuser,  but not alcohol dependent.
  3. A push by prosecutors to increase jail time for defendants who take their case to trial.
  4. One  bill that was defeated would have added five days in jail,  consecutively, for each traffic infraction associated with the DUI stop.
  5. A movement to decrease the number of prior DUIs necessary for the offense to become a felony DUI. 5.    WACDL introduced a bill to remove the ignition interlock requirement on employer owned vehicles driving during working hours.

Unfortunately, this bill did not pass this year, but has had support in the past and we are hopeful that it will pass next year.

Theresa  Mathis and WACDL's lobbyist Pam Crone have provided endless support in  making sure WACDL's voice is heard in Olympia on these matters.

With their continued help and support we hope to be able to further influence the legislative process.

Facing a DUI Charge in Washington State?

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