A misdemeanor Washington DUI can be elevated to a felony under some circumstances, including a prior conviction for “[v]ehicular assault while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug.” To elevate a charge, the state must prove the existence of the conviction and that it relates to the defendant. Vehicular assault is an alternative means offense, with three alternatives, but not all of the alternatives qualify for the enhancement. A Washington appeals court recently considered whether the state had proved a defendant’s prior conviction for vehicular assault qualified for the enhancement.
The defendant was charged with a DUI in 2016. The state alleged the defendant’s prior conviction for vehicular assault while under the influence made the current offense a felony. After finding the defendant had committed DUI, the jury was then asked to determine whether the defendant had a qualifying prior vehicular assault conviction. The state introduced the court records from the previous conviction as well as testimony from a police officer. The jury found the defendant had a prior vehicular assault while under the influence of alcohol conviction.
The defendant appealed, arguing the state did not produce sufficient evidence to elevate the offense to a felony. He argued the evidence only established a generic conviction for vehicular assault, rather than showing that he was convicted of vehicular assault while under the influence pursuant to RCW 46.61.522(1)(b).