In most states, there is a set period of time that can be used when determining how many prior convictions a defendant has. For a DUI case, the “look back” period will depend on the laws of the state. For example, in Georgia, the number of prior driving under the influence convictions is determined looking back ten years. However, in some states, this look back period is shorter or longer. For instance, according to WalletHub, in Arizona and Colorado the look-back period is seven years but in Alaska and Nebraska, the period is fifteen years.
Recently, Kentucky passed a new law that increased its look back period from five years to ten years. After the law was passed, two defendants who were impacted by the new law sued and the cases - Commonwealth v. Jackson and Commonwealth v. Denson - made their way to the State Supreme Court. According to the court, “[b]oth defendants had prior convictions for DUI offenses including one committed more than five years but less than ten years prior to his current [offense], and thus beyond the five-year look-back period of the former law, but within the ten-year look-back period of the current law.” If the defendants were adjudicated under the new law, they would face enhanced penalties as each would be charged with a fourth DUI offense instead of a third DUI.
The trial court concluded on its own that the plea agreements the defendants had signed for their previous DUI convictions “created enforceable contractual provisions which assured Jackson and Denson that their convictions could not enhance subsequent DUI offenses committed after five years.” The trial court held that “despite the 2016 amendment allowing a ten-year retrospective period for prior DUIs, using prior offenses more than five years old to enhance the penalty for 2016 offenses would violate contractual rights established in the defendants' plea agreements.”
The Supreme Court disagreed. It found that the prior plea agreements did not immunize the two defendants from the new law. The court determined that the defendants “were not promised, nor were they reasonably induced to believe, that their pleas in these cases would never be used to enhance the penalty for a subsequent DUI conviction more than five years in the future.” The court further stated that “[t]he plea agreements clearly explained that DUI penalties ‘will be increased with each conviction,' but neither agreement promised a time limit to the period for which the conviction could be used as a penalty enhancement of future DUI convictions.”
The court reasoned that the plea included the applicable law at the time, which was five years, but that “[t]hat provision does not promise that DUI convictions can only be used to enhance penalties of future offenses for five years.” The provision in question “relates only to the crime being plead, and says nothing about the penalty for subsequent DUI violations.” The court stated that “[w]e do not believe it would be reasonable for a defendant pleading guilty under the agreement to infer from some combination of the two provisions that the future ramifications of his conviction would cease after five years.” The court also stated that it did not think the language in the plea could be reasonably, objectively or subjectively interpreted to include a binding five-year look-back period.
The court concluded, “that language in DUI agreements such as that in this case, and similar allusions to the five-year look-back period which may have occurred during the plea bargain process, were not intended to constitute an immunization of DUI defendants from the 2016 changes to the DUI statute, and so may not be relied upon by defendants to avoid the application of the new look-back period.” The court looked at other arguments the defendants had made, but did not find them to be persuasive. It then reversed and remanded the cases back to the lower courts.
If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence in Gwinnett County, you will need the services of a skilled and aggressive DUI attorney in order to review your case and fight your charges. Do not let a DUI conviction affect your future, contact Gwinnett County DUI attorney Richard Lawson for a free consultation.