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Washington Court Explains What Constitutes a Voluntary Guilty Plea in DUI Case

Voluntary Guilty Plea in DUI Case Under Washington law, DUI crimes are generally charged as misdemeanors. RCW 46.61.502. In certain situations, they will be charged as felonies, however, such as when the defendant was previously convicted of a predicate offense following the entry of a guilty plea. RCW 46.61.502(6). This was demonstrated in a recent Washington case in which the defendant attempted to vacate his prior plea on the grounds that it was involuntary. If you are accused of a DUI crime, it is in your best interest to speak to a seasoned Tacoma DUI defense lawyer to assess what evidence the State may introduce against you at trial.

History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. A blood test subsequently revealed his BAC to be almost twice the legal limit. Pursuant to Washington law, the DUI was elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony crime due to the defendant's conviction five years prior for vehicular assault, following his entry of a guilty plea.

Allegedly, the defendant conceded his guilt to the DUI offense at trial but argued that his guilty plea in his vehicular assault case was constitutionally invalid. The trial court rejected the defendant's argument and convicted him of felony DUI. He appealed.

What Constitutes a Voluntary Guilty Plea

A court will determine whether a predicate conviction is constitutional as a threshold for admissibility, and defendants can challenge the constitutionality of a conviction for a prediction offense, including the plea they entered. If the defendant raises a fact-specific, colorable argument that a predicate conviction is not constitutional, the State must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that it is valid.

Among other things, the defendant argued that his conviction in his vehicular assault case was invalid because his waiver of the right to counsel was not knowing or intelligent. Criminal defendants have the right to the effective assistance of counsel when entering a guilty plea unless they voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waive that right.

In evaluating whether a waiver of the right to counsel was valid, a court will consider the information the defendant had at the time of the waiver. At a minimum, the record must indicate that the defendant understood the severity of the charges against them, the potential penalties, and the existence of the rules pertaining to the offering of a defense in order for a waiver to be valid. In the subject case, the court found that there was ample evidence that the defendant's waiver was knowing and voluntary. As such, his conviction was affirmed.

Meet With an Experienced Tacoma Criminal Defense Lawyer

While most DUI crimes are considered misdemeanors, they can be felonies in some situations. If you are charged with a DUI, it is prudent to meet with an attorney to discuss what defenses you may be able to offer. The experienced Tacoma criminal defense lawyers of The Law Offices of Smith & White can advise you of your rights and help you to seek the best legal outcome available under the facts of your case. You can reach us through our form online or by calling us at (253) 203-1645 to set up a conference.

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