What is a DUI habitual offender? Ronald Witt of Tigard, Oregon, may be able to answer that question for you, as the habitual offender was recently sentenced to 27 months behind bars, Portland's KATU-TV reports.
Witt, who's had prior DUI convictions, wasn't even drunk when he caused a crash that killed a 52-year-old man from Washington state in August, police say. But at a court hearing last week, Witt showed up reeking of alcohol, which the judge did not find amusing, according to KATU.
Because Witt has at least three prior convictions for DUI and driving with a suspended or revoked license within the past five years, Oregon has labeled him a habitual offender. What does being a habitual offender mean, and what are the consequences for DUI defendants?
What Is a Habitual Offender?
A habitual offender is generally defined as someone who's violated certain laws over a certain period of time. In Oregon, it's three convictions over the past five years; those convictions can be for crimes such as:
- DUI (which in Oregon is called DUII, or driving under the influence of intoxicants);
- Driving with a suspended or revoked license;
- Reckless driving; or
- Homicide (including murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, or vehicular homicide).
However, the number and types of convictions vary by state. So it's best to check your respective state's habitual offender laws to be sure.
Regardless of which state you're in, being labeled a habitual offender can lead to serious consequences such as:
- License revocation. While a license revocation may come even with a first-time DUI offense, it is far harsher for those with multiple DUIs and for habitual offenders. For example, Oregon will revoke your license for five years if you're a habitual offender.
- Harsher penalties. In many states, being a habitual offender can lead to harsher sentences. For example, a habitual DUI offender in Florida was isentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison for a fatal DUI. Multiple DUIs can also result in increased fines, possible vehicle confiscation, or a longer license revocation period, just to name a few possibilities.
- Automatic felony DUI charges. If you have prior DUI convictions (or even just one prior DUI in New York), you could automatically face a felony DUI charge if you're caught driving drunk again.
What Can You Do?
As Ronald Witt's case shows, courts don't look too kindly upon habitual offenders. But those who are willing to turn their lives around can potentially take action to lose the "habitual" label.
For example, when it comes to getting your driver's license reinstated, some states such as Virginia may consider a reinstatement if you petition a court.
Trying to get your prior convictions vacated may also be possible, but the rules, again, will vary by state.
To learn more about your options as a habitual offender, especially if you've been arrested for another DUI, it's best to ask an experienced DUI attorney near you.
- DUI Penalties (FindLaw)
- New York strictly enforcing new multiple offender DWI regulations (FindLaw's KnowledgeBase)
- Learn More About DUIs in Portland, Oregon (Portland DUI Attorney)
- Habitual DUI Offender In Texas Gets Life In Prison (FIndLaw's Atlanta DUI Law Blog)