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State court says not all drunk driving convictions are the same

When is a DUI conviction not a DUI conviction? It may sound like a riddle, but one state court recently heard a case that could have an effect on people in Maryland who are facing repeat DUI charges.

As Maryland drivers may know, our state -- like just about every state these days -- takes a harsher look at people who have been arrested for drunk driving when those people have been convicted of convicted of a prior drunk driving offense. Penalties can be more severe for someone who is convicted of a second offense than for someone who has never faced a DUI charge before.

In the recent ruling, a court was asked to rule on the sentence a Nebraska man received for fourth-offense drunk driving. Prosecutors pointed out that the man had three prior convictions: two DUIs, each received in Nebraska, plus another conviction in Colorado for driving while ability impaired, or DWAI. This was enough for a court to agree to the fourth-offense punishment, which in this case meant three to five years in prison.

However, the state Supreme Court disagreed. The court said that because the Colorado conviction was not equivalent to a DUI in Nebraska. The standard of proof is lower, justices said, explaining that the Colorado law deals with people who are impaired "to the slightest degree" -- a different standard than having a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or above.

People in Maryland who are facing DUI charges and have prior offenses on their records may wish to consult with an attorney who can work with them to minimize punishment -- particularly if a prior conviction is from another jurisdiction.

Source: The Journal Star, "Court: Colorado case can't count toward Lincoln DUI sentence," Jan. 25, 2013

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