Everyone knows that the penalties for a DUI conviction are worse if you have been convicted of DUI before. But one unusual aspect of Washington State’s DUI laws is that you can be treated as if you have had a prior DUI conviction even if you have not actually had a prior DUI conviction. If you were previously charged with DUI and the charge was reduced to a “lesser charge,” (typically by plea bargaining) that reduction must be used against you by the sentencing judge under the law even though you were never convicted of DUI if the previous arrest occurred within seven years of the arrest for the current charge.
This is true even though you might have been told, at the time of the previous reduction, that it would not count as a DUI conviction in the future. Even a successfully completed Deferred Prosecution, which resulted in dismissal of the previous DUI charge, will count as a prior if the arrest was within seven years of the current incident. The same is true of a DUI charge that was reduced to a lesser charge and a “deferred sentence” imposed. Many people were told that this resolution makes the prior incident “go away” but under the current DUI law, it could come back to haunt you
Keep in mind that a judge retains the right to consider convictions more than seven years before the current incident in imposing a stiffer sentence, but prior offenses within seven years give the judge no choice but to impose the mandatory stiffer sentence. The difference is significant: For instance, an individual who has a DUI arrest with a breath test of .15 or higher who has no prior offenses faces a mandatory minimum of two days in jail. The same individual with a “prior offense” within seven years of the current arrest faces a mandatory minimum of 45 days in jail plus 60 days of electronic home monitoring.
All of this (and more) is set out in the sentencing statute, RCW 46.61.5055.
These laws are complex and must be read in the context of other Washington DUI laws in order to gain an accurate picture of the consequences of a DUI conviction in a particular factual setting.