Legislature Proposes DUI Conviction Change

Currently, the Montana Legislature is considering HB 14 which attempts to change the way the State of Montana counts prior DUI convictions for purposes of sentencing someone. In English this means that the Legislature is voting to change the way a DUI offense is treated if the accused has prior DUI convictions.

In Montana the counting of past DUI convictions was a semi-tricky process. The law has been the following: If you are arrested for a DUI and you have three (3) or more DUI convictions in your lifetime past, the Courts will consider the new DUI a fourth, which is a felony. With three or more lifetime convictions, the Courts will count all convictions, no matter how long ago due to the number of convictions.

However, if the same person only has two (2) or less previous convictions in their lifetime, then a more complicated calculation happens. With 2 or less prior convictions, the Courts will only look back five (5) years to count a previous conviction. For example, of someone is arrested for a new DUI and they have one prior conviction two years before, and one conviction ten years ago, the Court will only “count” the single conviction within 5 years of the new arrest. So, that person would be accused of DUI 2nd offense within 5 years.

As a different example, if a person is arrested for a new DUI and they have two prior DUI convictions that were both within the last 5 years of the new arrest, then the court would “count” both of those convictions because they were within the last 5 years, and the charge would be DUI 3rd offense within 5 years. The sentencing ramifications between a 2nd and 3rd DUI offense are significant.

The reasoning for this type of treatment of DUI offenders has revolved around not punishing a person with DUI convictions spread apart by many years as harshly as someone who has multiple offenses in a short amount of time.

The Current HB 14 that has a majority of Yes votes will attempt to change this prior conviction counting formula. HB 14 attempts to remove the 5 year look back restriction. In the examples above, under the current law, the two people are treated differently, one as a DUI 2nd, and one as a 3rd. HB 14 would treat them both as DUI 3rd offenses because without the 5 year restriction, the Courts would be able to count any other DUI conviction, no matter how long ago.

Another way to look at this bill, is a different example. A person is convicted of DUI 20 years ago, and receives a new DUI charge now 20 years later. Current law, would treat this as a DUI first offense, due to the amount of time that has elapsed. HB 14 would treat this person as a DUI 2nd offense, requiring longer mandatory jail, higher fines, and longer license suspension.

What do you think about this bill and is it a good idea?