Alabama DUI Law: Pending Legislation – The Return of Alabama Felony DUI
The Return of Alabama Felony DUI
Today we reach the closing chapter in our three part series discussing bills pending in the Alabama Legislature that would affect Alabama’s DUI law. We previously discussed a bill that would close a loophole relating to driver’s license suspensions and a bill that would consolidate the ways in which DUI can be charged under Alabama’s DUI statute. Today we discuss a bill that would have a far greater legal impact within our state than the other bills we have reviewed. This last bill, Senate Bill 151, which was introduced by Senator Orr, I will call the “Felony DUI Bill”. Before we get into the contents of this bill, let’s have a little history lesson.
Alabama DUI law has for many years provided for increased punishment ranges for second, third, as well as fourth and subsequent offenses. The most important distinction is that between first through third offenses, which are misdemeanors, and fourth or subsequent offenses, which are felonies. For many years the law was that the court would look back and count each prior DUI conviction within the person’s lifetime when determining what number offense the current offense was. A few years ago the law was changed so that the court only looked back to convictions within five years of current conviction. The practical effect of this change was to virtually do away with do away with felony DUI’s in Alabama. This is because the club of people who rack up four or more DUI convictions within a five year period is extremely small, while quite a significantly larger portion of the population picks up four or more DUI convictions over a lifetime.
The Felony DUI Bill would restore the law to the way it was prior to the five-year look back window. Consequently, this bill would resurrect the felony DUI in Alabama. Why is this such a big deal? It is a big deal because the punishments hanging over the head of a person facing a felony DUI are potentially so much harsher than for a misdemeanor DUI. For example, the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor DUI is one year, but for a felony the minimum is one year and one day. The maximum for an unenhanced felony DUI is 10 years, with enhancements it can potentially go much higher.
The bill would make one other change to the law regarding felony DUI’s. It would increase the mandatory time (i.e., the time that a judge cannot suspend) that must be served in jail for a felony DUI from 10 days to 90 days.
There is one tiny vestige of the “five-year” terminology that remains in the DUI statute. For some reason the new bill fails to remove the “within a five-year period” language from the part of the DUI statute setting forth the punishment for second offense DUIs. My guess is that this is due simply to oversight by the drafters of the legislation.
So there you have it. That wraps up our round up of DUI legislation currently pending in the Alabama Legislature.