Nebraska Supreme Court Addresses Out-Of-State Dui Convictions Used To Enhance Penalties

Police are very aggressive when on patrol for drunk drivers. If an officer observes a moving violation by a motorist, he or she may decide to stop the driver and look for signs of impairment. If the driver fails field sobriety tests, the officer may then make an arrest.

While the consequences of a conviction are severe even for a first-offense DUI, they increase dramatically for repeat DUI offenders. A second-offense may bring jail time, which increases with subsequent convictions. A fourth-offense may be charged as a felony, which can bring 180 days to one year behind bars.

If an offender has been convicted of a DUI or DUI-related offense in other states, this may be used to enhance the penalties that may be handed down for a conviction in Nebraska. The Nebraska Supreme Court recently heard a case that may have an impact for those charged as a repeat offender due to out-of-state convictions.

In the case, a police officer observed a vehicle suspended on a utility pole guide wire. As the officer approached, the driver of the vehicle jumped out. The officer and the man began talking, and the officer detected signs of impairment. Another officer administered a blood-alcohol test, and the man registered a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.10, above the legal limit.

The man faced three charges as a result of the stop, including driving without registration and insurance, and also for a fourth-offense DUI. He was convicted of the DUI, but acquitted on the other two charges.

During the penalty phase of the trial, the state introduced the evidence of the man’s prior convictions. This included one conviction for Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI), which occurred in Colorado.

The man objected to this conviction being used to enhance the penalties he was facing. In Colorado, a person can be charged with DWAI if his or her BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08, and can be charged with DUI if the BAC is 0.08 or higher. He argued that a conviction for DWAI in Colorado was not similar to a conviction for DUI in Nebraska because the offenses contained different elements.

The Nebraska Supreme Court agreed with his arguments, reasoning that a DWAI conviction required impairment at the slightest degree, while the Nebraska DUI laws called for an appreciable degree of impairment. Because of the difference in the way impairment was measured, the DWAI could not be used to enhance the sentence he would receive in Nebraska.

This case highlights how important it is to aggressively defend against DUI charges. Speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn about the options that may be available to you. Because the punishments only increase for subsequent convictions, simply pleading guilty to the charges may carry significant consequences in the future.

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