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Washington Court Discusses Offender Scores in DUI Cases

On Behalf of | Feb 18, 2021 | DUI

Under Washington law, a DUI offense that would ordinarily be prosecuted as a misdemeanor may be graded as a felony under certain circumstances. For example, if a DUI defendant has numerous prior qualifying convictions, it could constitute grounds for charging a DUI offense as a felony. Recently, a Washington court set forth an opinion explaining how prior offenses are scored in a case in which the defendant appealed his felony DUI conviction. If you are charged with driving while intoxicated, you could face significant penalties, and it is in your best interest to meet with a trusted Washington DUI defense attorney to determine your possible defenses.

The History of the Case

The defendant was charged with a DUI offense. Following a jury trial, he was found guilty of felony DUI due to the fact that the trial court determined he had three qualifying offenses within the ten years prior to his conviction. The defendant stipulated to his offender score but later appealed, arguing that the trial court improperly included a misdemeanor crime when calculating his offender score, which resulted in an improper score. The court ultimately agreed and remanded the matter for resentencing.

Calculating an Offender Score Under Washington Law

Under Washington law, a DUI is considered a felony if the defendant has three or more qualifying offenses within the ten years preceding the offense. To determine an offender score for a felony DUI offense, the court will assign one point to each felony offense as an adult and one point to each serious traffic offense other than offenses used solely for enhancement purposes.

If an offender score is miscalculated, the remedy is to resentence the defendant using the correct offender score. Offender score determinations are reviewed de novo, and an incorrect offender score may be challenged for the first time on appeal, even if the defendant stipulated to the score. Further, a court acts without authority if it imposes a sentence grounded on an improper offender score.

Reckless driving and misdemeanor DUI are both considered serious traffic offenses, while reckless endangerment is neither a serious offense nor a felony. In the subject case, the defendant had prior convictions for misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and reckless endangerment. Thus, his offender score should have been a two rather than a three, pursuant to Washington law.

As such, the appellate court found that the trial court clearly violated the statutory provisions regarding the calculation of an offender score by assigning a point for the reckless endangerment conviction. Thus, the defendant’s sentence was deemed unlawful, and the matter was remanded to the trial court for resentencing.

Speak to a Seasoned Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington

DUI convictions can carry significant penalties such as fines and jail time, and often impact people’s relationships and careers as well. If you are accused of a DUI offense, it is critical that you speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. The seasoned criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can advise you of your options and set forth compelling defenses on your behalf. You can reach us through our form online or at 253-363-8662 to schedule a conference.