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DUI Habitual Offenders: What are and How Severe are the Consequences?

What is a DUI habitual offender? Ronald Witt of Tigard, Oregon fits the definition, apparently. The habitual offender was recently sentenced to 27 months behind bars.

Witt has had prior DUI convictions, however, he wasn’t even drunk when he caused a crash that killed a 52-year old man from Washington state in August. However, at a court hearing last week, Witt showed up clearly smelling of alcohol, which the judge did not appreciate. Because Witt has at least three prior convictions for DUI and driving with a suspended/revoked license within the past five years, the state of Oregon labeled him as a habitual offender.

But what does being a habitual offender really mean and what are the consequences for DUI defendents?

What is a habitual offender?

A habitual offender is defined as someone who’s violated certain laws repeatedly over a certain period of time. In Oregon, three convictions over the past five years and 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 manslaughter, murder, negligent homicide, or vehicular homicide).

However, the number and convictions vary from state to state. So it’s prudent for anyone to check their respective state’s habitual offender laws to be sure.

What are the consequences of being labeled as a habitual offender?

Being labeled as a habitual offender can lead to serious legal ramifications. Among them being:

  • License revocation. While a license can be revoked with a single offense, the penalty is harsher with repeated offenses. For example, Oregon will revoke your license for five years if you’re a habitual offender.
  • Harsher penalties can vary from state to state, however in many states, being a habitual offender can lead to much harsher sentences. For example, a habitual DUI offender in Florida was sentenced to ten years and ten months in prison for a fatal DUI. Multiple DUIs can also lead to increased fines, vehicle confiscation, or an even longer license revocation period.
  • Automatic Felony DUI charges are also a possibility. If you have multiple 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.
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