Editorial: Felony DUI law welcome

An Island County Superior Court judge recently sentenced a man to more than four years in prison for driving under the influence, among other charges.

Thanks to a law the Legislature passed in 2007, DUI can become a felony in certain circumstances. For example, suspects can be charged if they have been convicted of four or more DUIs in the past or if the have been convicted in the past of a single intoxication-related vehicular assault or vehicular homicide.

Before the DUI felony law took effect, DUI was simply a misdemeanor. It could result in painful fines and other costs and short jail sentences, but DUI convictions alone could not send someone to prison.

The man sentenced to prison by Judge Vickie Churchill had a history of vehicular assault and was justly deserving if his punishment. In fact he agreed to the sentence in a plea bargain. Perhaps with the counseling available in prison, he can change his ways and become a responsible member of society when he is released.

Drivers who operated a vehicle while drunk or high on drugs are an extreme danger to society. Victims and their supporters have been begging and lobbying for years for tougher punishment.

The Legislature went a little easy on repeat offenders, giving them four mistakes in the DUI category before the possibility of a felony charge kicks in. Some would argue that the number of such “mistakes” should be cut to three, two or even one. But the limit of four is a good start, and as shown in the Island County case, it can be used to make the local roadways safer for years to come by removing one person from the road.

More importantly, someone who has injured or killed another person in the past due to DUI can be charged with a felony the next time he or she is arrested.

The law sends a long-awaited and much-needed message to those who drive under the influence: Think twice before getting behind the wheel, or you might be driving yourself to prison.

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