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:
- 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.
- 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.
- A push by prosecutors to increase jail time for defendants who take their case to trial.
- One bill that was defeated would have added five days in jail, consecutively, for each traffic infraction associated with the DUI stop.
- 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.