Kentucky DUI Look-Back Period Results in Harsher Punishments for Defendants

October 10th, 2017 by Attorney Dan Carman

We all try to learn and move on from past mistakes, but sometimes they come back to haunt us. For some who have pleaded guilty to, or were found guilty of, driving under the influence (DUI) in a Kentucky court, it’s not just the past mistake but a change in Kentucky law that can result in serious problems in the present or future.

The Kentucky Supreme Court late last month decided to uphold the application of a state law passed last year that imposes harsher penalties on drivers who admit to, or are found guilty of, DUI by pushing farther back the “look-back” period for prior convictions, from five years to ten years, reports the Lexington Herald Leader.

The look-back period was extended after testimony by families whose loved ones were killed in accidents involving intoxicated drivers. Before the change, tougher prison sentences could be given to for those who had multiple DUI convictions within the prior five years. If these incidents were spread out over a longer period of time, harsher penalties could be avoided.

The appeal decided by the state’s highest court came from Warren County cases involving two defendants who pleaded guilty to DUIs with the understanding that harsher penalties could be given if they were involved in a similar incident within five years. Afterwards, the legislature increased that to ten.

The two men were involved in incidents which resulted in plea bargain agreements with the state in 2009 and 2011, and both were arrested again for DUI in 2016. The defendants argued that the new law shouldn’t apply to them since they entered into contracts with the state stipulating that the five-year time frame would apply if another DUI took place. The trial court agreed with the defendants that harsher penalties shouldn’t apply. The Commonwealth appealed, and it was heard by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The Court unanimously decided that the trial court judge got it wrong. The state can retroactively impose the ten-year look-back period on defendants even if that period includes DUI guilty pleas the defendants entered into not knowing what legislative changes could happen years later.

“…we agree 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…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 only reference to a five-year period is the section of the plea agreement that accurately details the range of penalties applicable at the time of the plea. That provision does not promise that DUI convictions can only be used to enhance penalties of future offenses for five years.”

Most criminal cases are resolved through some type of plea bargain agreement. Though these agreements are generally seen as enforceable contracts with the state, this decision shows there are limits as to how binding they might be on the Commonwealth. Those with records of a Kentucky DUI conviction in the past need to be aware that this ten-year look back applies no matter what a past plea bargain agreement might state.

If you or a family member has been charged with a DUI, Lexington, KY, criminal defense attorney Dan Carman can help. He was a Judge Advocate “JAG” (defense lawyer and prosecuting attorney) for felony charges against Marine Corps and Navy personnel. This experience gives him insight into both the prosecution and defense sides of the legal process, which can be very helpful to those facing criminal offense charges. He knows how the Kentucky criminal justice system operates and will work closely with you every step of the way.

Based in Lexington, he represents clients throughout Kentucky who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Let him work with you to plan the aggressive defense that you will need. Use the convenient online inquiry form or call (859) 685-1055 for a free initial consultation.