If you are accused of a DUI, whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense depends on whether you have previously been convicted of vehicular assault under Washington law. As the Washington Court of Appeals explained in Washington v. Allen, however, not all vehicular assaults are treated equally in terms of evaluating subsequent charges. Rather, only certain vehicular assault convictions serve as a basis for enhanced charges. If you are charged with a DUI, it is essential to your defense to retain an experienced Washington DUI defense attorney to analyze the circumstances regarding your arrest and what evidence the state may attempt to introduce against you.
Facts of the Case
Purportedly, the defendant in Allen was charged with a felony DUI, due to a prior conviction of vehicular assault under the influence. The trial was bifurcated per the defendant’s request. The first issue submitted to the jury was whether the defendant was guilty of DUI, which the jury determined he was. The second issue submitted to the jury was whether the defendant’s prior conviction for vehicular assault provided sufficient grounds to convict the defendant of a felony offense. On the second issue, the state introduced records from the defendant’s prior case as well as testimony from the arresting officer in the defendant’s prior case as to the defendant’s behavior at the time of his prior arrest. Based on the evidence presented, the jury found that the defendant was previously convicted of vehicular assault while under the influence of alcohol. The defendant subsequently appealed the jury’s finding regarding his prior conviction.
Ruling of the Court of Appeals of The State of Washington
On appeal, the court noted that in certain cases the state can increase a misdemeanor DUI charge to a felony charge. One basis for increasing the charge is a prior conviction for vehicular assault while under the influence of alcohol. In this case, the defendant argued the state did not set forth adequate evidence to show he was previously convicted of vehicular assault while under the influence. The court stated that the question of whether a prior vehicular assault conviction is sufficient to elevate a charge involves issues of both fact and law. Factually, the state must prove the defendant was previously convicted of the charge, after which the analysis is solely legal.
The court stated that because a prior conviction is a legal matter, it should be decided by the court and not the jury. In analyzing a prior conviction, the court is limited to only facts that were stipulated to or proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and can only assess the facts needed to prove the elements of the crime. In the subject case, the state provided the elements of the crime, the defendant’s guilty plea, the judgment and sentence, which were sufficient to prove his prior conviction. The court held that while there were three ways in which a defendant could commit vehicular assault, the defendant’s charge included all three and, therefore, his guilty plea encompassed all three. As such, the court affirmed his conviction.
Consult an Experienced Washington Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are charged with DUI, it is important to know how any prior motor vehicle offenses will affect your current charges. You should retain an experienced DUI defense attorney to help you formulate a strong defense to the charges you face. The experienced criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith and White will work to prevent any charges from being elevated due to previous convictions. Contact our offices at 253-363-8662 or via the online form to set up a consultation.