Aggravating Factors For a DUI Charge
Interviewer: Are there factors that would aggravate or enhance a DUI and make it a felony or just make it more serious?
Brett Hollett: There are. Alabama passed a super DUI law. It was about a year or two ago now but any BAC result over a 0.15% is considered an aggravated DUI. Any fourth or subsequent conviction of a DUI will be a treated as a felony.
Interviewer: What about if you had a kid in the car, or if you’re in an accident?
Brett Hollett: Yes, having a child passenger under the age of 14 in your vehicle will also enhance the potential punishment. Additionally, if you are in an accident and case bodily harm to anyone other than yourself, you would be facing stricter sentencing.
Mercy of the Court
Interviewer: With DUIs specifically, how do the courts tend to treat people and the prosecutors? Are they really hard on them or do they have sympathy and they understand?
Brett Hollett: They can’t be too lenient. Drinking and driving is a huge public safety concern. No judge or prosecutor wants to get blamed for allowing a “drunk” back out on the road, especially if that person then causes an accident and injures somebody. However, DUIs happen and even judges and prosecutors realize they can happen to anybody. If the aggravating factors aren’t there and it’s a first-time offender, I think they tend to understand that someone made a bad choice but they also want to make sure that the person understands the consequences of what they’ve done and attempt to make sure the person doesn’t reoffend.
Look-Back Period & First-Time Offenders
Interviewer: In Alabama, what is the look-back period? For instance, if you got a DUI 20 years ago and you get one now, will it be considered your second one or your first one?
Brett Hollett: We have a 5 year look back period for sentencing purposes. A DUI from 20 years ago would be considered a first time offense for sentencing purposes on the new DUI. However, the record of that 20 year old DUI will still be out there unless you’ve gotten your record expunged. Therefore, the prosecutor and the judge may still know you haven’t had a DUI in the last five years, but you have had previous DUI convictions in your lifetime. The knowledge of any prior DUI may negatively impact any deal we’re able to work out.
Interviewer: Do you have people that call and they just seem to have in their mind, “It’s my first one. It’s not a big deal – probably like a traffic ticket”? How serious is a first-time DUI charge?
Brett Hollett: It depends on your priorities, but again, it’s very serious if you want to try to keep your license. It’s very serious if you’re very worried about your employment or your future employment. Like I said, this stuff will show up on your criminal history if you plead guilty or are found guilty. I would recommend to anybody facing a DUI charge: be serious and have an attorney with you to help navigate the procedural aspects of it. An attorney may be able to mitigate fines and court costs, minimize the amount of suspension time on your license. An attorney may also be able to negotiate a reduction in the charge or even have the entire case dismissed.
Interviewer: Do you have people that have a first-time conviction from years ago when they were young, were never arrested again, but they feel like it’s no big deal the first time and now they’re facing more enhanced penalties? Is that a common scenario?
Brett Hollett: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, the look-back period is five years but no matter how many times you’ve been convicted within those five years – if you’re a repeat offender – the prosecutor is going to look at you differently. The judge is going to look at you differently and treat you differently because of the fact that you have a history with drinking and driving.
Interviewer: Even a first offense is very serious because it sounds like it sets you up for a lot of problems later on if you ever have it happen again.
Brett Hollett: Absolutely.
Interviewer: Do you have people that get arrested for another DUI while they’re under a criminal process for a first one?
Brett Hollett: Unfortunately, I have had some. I have one right now.
Interviewer: Yeah, I’ve heard of that. That is surprising but I guess it happens pretty frequently.
Brett Hollett: Yes. Unfortunately, some clients may have a substance abuse problem and until something bad happens they may not realize that they really need treatment more than anything else.
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