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Ky. Supreme Court upholds expanding DUI ‘look-back’ from 5 to 10 years

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Monday, Oct. 9, 2017 — Kentucky drivers who have been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) between five and 10 years ago may find themselves in for a legal shock in the wake of a recent decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court ruled that a law passed by the 2016 Kentucky General Assembly expanding the “look-back” period on DUI charges was indeed legal, and upheld two cases from Fayette County.

The look-back period is the period that a drivers record continues to show past offenses. In the case of DUIs, the look back period can be very important, and mean the difference between being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.

For years in Kentucky, the first, second and third DUI convictions were misdemeanors; the fourth DUI conviction within five years was a Class D felony, punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison. And until last year, the period during which the offenses had to occur to be counted as a prior DUI — the so-called “look-back” period — was five years.

The General Assembly changed that in April 2016 with Senate Bill 56, which expanded the look-back period. And because the bill included an emergency clause, it went into effect the day Gov. Matt Bevin signed it — April 9, 2017.

Bardstown attorney Doug Hubbard said the law could be an unpleasant surprise to motorists who have DUI convictions in their past. With the 10-year look-back period upheld as constitutional, a single DUI in the present may be a felony, depending on the driver’s record.

Outside the legal community, Hubbard said that he believed very few people were aware of the new law, and fewer were aware of the high court’s decision to uphold it as constitutional. He advised drivers who have DUIs on their driving record to be aware of these changes.

The change is intended to address habitual DUI offenders whose prior offenses may have been more than five years in the past.

The penalties for DUI convictions grow more severe with each additional conviction. A fourth DUI conviction is a Class D felony.

The Kentucky General Assembly expanded the look-back period in 2016 after hearing testimony from families who lost loved ones to drunk drivers who avoided tougher sentence because their prior DUI convictions were more than five years apart.

In two Warren County cases, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state can retroactively impose the 10-year look-back period on defendants even when that period includes DUI guilty pleas the defendants entered in the past.

The Supreme Court case is 2016-SC-000530.

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