On July 28, 2021, the Arkansas legislature effected a wide-reaching change to the state’s DWI law.
Most notably, the “look-back” period for misdemeanor DWI charges, A.C.A. 5-65-111, was increased from five to ten years. For sixth offense DWI charges, the look-back period is now twenty years–a full two decades. The waiting period to seal or expunge old misdemeanor charges was similarly increased.
In Arkansas, DWI 1st through 3rd offense are all misdemeanor charges. This recent change fully doubled the time during which a person’s prior misdemeanor charge can be used against him on a subsequent misdemeanor DWI.
Curiously, however, the legislature did not amend or alter the law regarding the look-back period for fines and driver control suspensions. The look-back period for those purposes was left at five years.
That means that a hypothetical defendant could have a felony DWI #4 (based on 3 priors each from 9 years ago) and be looking at 1 year in prison minimum but only up to $1,000 fine (only a 1st within 5 years), and only a 6 month driver’s license suspension (with the possibility for a restricted license to continue driving).
Thankfully, many prosecutors are sympathetic to what a ridiculously rolled out change this has been. Arkansas was already a very strange place for DWI charges, where prosecutors are stripped of their power to dismiss or reduce DWIs to lower level offenses. With this change, the legislature has effectively turned the maze into a labyrinth.