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Court Examines Predicate Offenses in Washington DUI (and court order violation) Cases

by | Apr 29, 2024 | Drunk Driving, DUI, DUI and Evidence, Evidence

Under Washington law, the penalties for DUI crimes increase with each subsequent offense. Similarly, a 3rd or subsequent court order violation (both protection orders and no contact orders) can raise that allegation to the level of a felony.  Notably, prior offenses include not only DUI (and court order) convictions in Washington but also those from other states. Only certain DUI crimes qualify as predicate offenses, though, as explained in a recent Washington ruling issued in a DUI case. If you are charged with a DUI offense, it is smart to confer with a Tacoma DUI defense attorney regarding what measures you can take to protect your interests.

History of the Case

It is reported that in October 2020, the defendant was involved in a car accident in which his vehicle overturned in a ravine. A witness reported the incident, stating the defendant was trapped. Responding officers found them in the driver’s seat, displaying signs of disorientation and admitting to having consumed PCP. The defendant was subsequently charged with felony DUI and reckless driving based on prior convictions from Seattle Municipal Court in 2012 and 2017 and Las Vegas Municipal Court in 2016, respectively.

Allegedly, the defendant moved to exclude the 2016 Las Vegas conviction as constitutionally invalid for use as a predicate offense, arguing that their absence during the plea hearing rendered the plea involuntary. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, terminating the felony charge and allowing the State to proceed with a misdemeanor DUI charge. The State appealed.

Predicate Offenses in DUI (and court order violation) Cases

On appeal, the court analyzed whether the defendant met the burden of proving a colorable, fact-specific claim of constitutional error in the Las Vegas conviction as required before the burden shifted to the State. It ultimately determined that the defendant failed to meet this burden as he didn’t present specific circumstances rendering the plea involuntary.

The court explained that, unlike other cases where defendants provided detailed evidence of constitutional violations, the defendant only made a broad argument based on their absence during the plea hearing, without alleging their attorney’s failure to inform them of their rights or the plea’s lack of voluntariness.

The court further noted that the defendant’s motion lacked specific claims of constitutional error, such as ineffective assistance of counsel or lack of understanding of the plea’s consequences. Therefore, the court found that the trial court’s misinterpretation and misapplication of legal standards led to the erroneous exclusion of the Las Vegas conviction. As such, the court reversed the trial decision and remanded the matter with instructions to the trial court to apply the proper standard.

Consult a Skillful Tacoma Attorney

While DUI crimes involve the use of vehicles, they are not mere traffic offenses but instead are serious crimes that can result in lengthy prison terms. If you are charged with a DUI offense, it is important to understand your rights, and you should talk to an attorney as soon as possible. The skillful Tacoma criminal defense lawyers of The Law Offices of Smith & White can assess the circumstances surrounding your charges and help you to fight to protect your liberties. You can reach us through our form online or by calling us at (253) 203-1645 to set up a conference.