Court States Factors Weighed in Elevating a Washington DUI Charge to a Felony

Although all DUI charges should be taken seriously, felony DUI charges can result in significant penalties, including jail time. Most DUIs are charged as misdemeanors, but they can be elevated to felonies in certain cases. Recently, the Supreme Court of Washington clarified the essential elements for escalating a DUI charge from a misdemeanor to a felony in a case in which the defendant appealed his felony DUI conviction. If you reside in Washington and are currently charged with a felony DUI, it is important to speak with a seasoned attorney to discuss your options for seeking a favorable outcome.

The Defendant’s Driving History and Charges

Reportedly, the State charged the defendant with numerous driving-related offenses, including felony DUI. The DUI was charged as a felony due to the fact that the defendant had four prior offenses, as defined by Washington law, within ten years of his current arrest. The court bifurcated the trial so that the jury heard evidence of the defendant’s conduct on the date he was arrested prior to hearing evidence of his prior acts. Thus, the jury convicted the defendant of misdemeanor DUI, after which evidence of the defendant’s prior offenses was introduced. Specifically, the prosecution advised the jury that the defendant had previously been convicted for DUI, negligent driving, and two counts of reckless driving. The reckless and negligent driving offenses were originally charged as DUIs.

It is alleged that after the prosecution rested, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the felony DUI charge on the grounds that the prosecution failed to present adequate evidence that his convictions for reckless driving involved alcohol. The jury issued a verdict finding that the defendant had four prior offenses. The defendant was sentenced within the felony DUI range, after which he appealed, again arguing there was insufficient evidence that his prior reckless driving convictions involved alcohol. The court of appeals affirmed, after which the defendant petitioned the Supreme Court of Washington for review.

Requirements for Escalating a Misdemeanor DUI to a Felony

On review, the court noted that the relevant statute defined prior offenses as the term pertains to DUI cases, as a conviction for reckless or negligent driving or reckless endangerment, if the conviction arose out of a charge that was originally filed as a DUI offense. While prior case law suggested that the prosecution was required to establish that drugs or alcohol were involved in the commission of the prior offense, the court disagreed. Rather, the court ruled that under the plain language of the statute, a crime will be considered a prior offense if it is a prior conviction for reckless driving, negligent driving, or reckless endangerment was initially charged as a DUI. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Speak with a Proficient DUI Defense Attorney

If you are a Washington resident charged with a felony DUI, it is crucial to speak with a proficient Washington DUI defense attorney regarding what defenses you may be able to assert to protect your rights and privileges. The zealous criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White have the experience and skills needed to help you pursue a successful result, and we will fight tirelessly on your behalf. We can be reached at 253-203-1645 or via our form online to schedule a confidential and free meeting.

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