Which Previous DWI Guilty Pleas Do (and Do Not) Count Against You in Your Louisiana DWI Case

The Louisiana Court of Appeal recently refused to throw out a man’s conviction on third-offense DWI despite his arguments that one of his prior convictions should not have counted against him in his current case. Although there were certain things the judge in the previous case did not tell the man about criminal law and trial procedure, none of those pieces of information was required by the Constitution, so the conviction was properly included as part of the basis for the man’s current charge.

Damion Billups’ most recent DWI case began when a state trooper observed him speeding along a rural road in Northeastern Louisiana. When the trooper stopped the driver, he thought the driver appeared intoxicated, put him through some field sobriety tests, and, based on those results, arrested the man for DWI. The state charged the matter as a third-offense DWI, since Billups had two previous DWI convictions, one each in 2008 and 2010. The driver challenged the charge brought against him, arguing that his 2010 plea was unconstitutional and that this offense should not count against him. After the trial judge concluded that both prior offenses were validly counted against the man, Billups entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to one year of hard labor.

The condition in Billups’ case was that he retained the right to appeal the trial judge’s ruling regarding the 2010 plea. The driver again argued on appeal that the 2010 guilty plea was constitutionally defective. The driver argued that the trial judge in that case, despite engaging in a lengthy exchange with the driver on the record, did not satisfy the Constitution because the judge failed to define several terms and failed to describe certain rights to Billups.

This argument did not persuade the appeals court. The standard for whether a previous guilty plea can be used as a “predicate” for a more severe punishment in the current case was established in a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case, Boykin v. Alabama. In that ruling, the court listed three essential ingredients that must be part of the prior guilty plea for it to count against the accused in his immediate case. The law demanded that the trial judge sufficiently inform the accused “that, by pleading guilty, he waived his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination, his right to trial and jury trial where it is applicable and his right to confront his accuser.”

In Billups’ situation, the appeals court decided that standard was met, since the judge in his 2010 case accomplished all three of these things. She asked the driver if he was being forced to plead guilty and told him that, if he did not plead guilty and his case went to trial, no one could force him to testify. She also told Billups that, if he did not plead guilty, he was entitled to a trial by judge. Finally, the judge told the man that, if he went to trial, his lawyer would have the chance to examine the witnesses the state would bring forward. The judge questioned Billups as to whether he understood what was being communicated to him. Based upon these statements and questions, and Billups’ responses stating that he understood, the trial judge properly and sufficiently informed the driver of his rights, and Billups made a conscious and voluntary decision to waive those rights.

Other elements about which the judge did not communicate, and about which the driver objected in his current appeal, such as details about what makes up a trial and the prosecution’s burden of proof, did not disqualify the case from counting as a predicate offense. These pieces of information were not necessary and were not required by the standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Boykin case, the appeals court concluded.

When you’re facing a DWI charge, especially if you have previous convictions on your record, it is important to consult with knowledgeable defense counsel. The law makes certain clear demands of the prosecution in order to use previous convictions against you, and an experienced DWI attorney can help you ensure that convictions that should not count will not be used against you. The skillful Louisiana DWI attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm have helped many clients ensure that their rights are protected.

For your confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More Blog Posts:

Louisiana Driver’s Plea was Valid Even Without Express Statement of Waived Rights Before Trial Judge, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Sept. 29, 2015

The Risks of Negotiating a DWI Plea Arrangement in Louisiana Without a Lawyer, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, July 28, 2015

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