Washington DUI Laws

Washington has some of the strictest DUI laws in the country.  If it has been determined that you have been driving in Washington with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher then you can be arrested for a DUI.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police announced that Washington State Patrol made more DUI arrests than any other agency in North America. According to their annual report, the number comes in at just under 20,000.

After the arrest, a court appearance will be schedule. In some states, your trial could be scheduled a month later. However, if you have been arrested for a DUI in Seattle, you will have to appear in court within 48 hours. At that first hearing, you might even find whisked off to jail until you can raise the cash for your bail. This has made the Seattle courts one of the busiest in the nation!

What to do if Stopped

A police officer has pulled you over and you have had a drink or two. Now what? You must provide your license, registration, and proof of insurance. Have these ready before the officer gets to your window. I keep my papers together in the driver’s side visor.

When the officer gets to your car, he will start asking you questions. “Do you know why I stopped you?” or “Have you been drinking tonight?” You do not have to answer these questions. Always be polite, but it is always ok to say “My attorney always said not to answer any questions, even for a traffic ticket.”

My cards, and those of several other DUI attorneys have an “assertion of rights” printed on the back. This is a handy card that explains to the officer that you are going to comply with his requests, but that you are not going to do anything that isn’t legally required. You can print a copy to keep with you Field Sobriety Tests.

Politely decline to do any field sobriety tests. A simple “no thank you” will do. These are voluntary tests that the officer will want you to perform in order to gather evidence against you. The most commonly applied tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, One Leg Stand, Walk and Turn, and the Portable Breath Test or “PBT”. Law enforcement around Spokane will often ask if its ok to check your eyes, or “make sure you are ok to drive”. If the officer is asking you to take a test prior to arrest, you can refuse to do them.

The penalties associated with DUI and licensing are weighted so that they are more severe if you refuse to take the test. Because of this, I often advise people to submit to the breath test, but not always. This is one of the most critical decisions a person will make during a DUI arrest. Speak with a lawyer before deciding.

Washington DUI Penalties

The penalties for a DUI conviction in Washington are divided into two categories: under .15 BAC or over .15 BAC. For instance a first time DUI conviction with a BAC under .15 comes with at least one day in jail up to one year maximum or 15 days of electronic home detection. You could also be fined in the range of $800 to $5,000, face 90 days of license suspension and up to five years of monitored probation which can mean random testing.

For that same first time conviction with a BAC of .15 or higher, you’ll be sent to jail for at least two days with the potential of staying there for up to a year or have 30 days of electronic home detection. The minimum fine is over $1,000 and the licenses suspension is for one year.

If a second DUI occurs within seven years of the first conviction then you can face a minimum of 30 days in jail plus (not “or”) 60 days of electronic home detection. With a second DUI conviction that has a proven BAC of over .15 the jail time goes up to 45 days plus 90 days of electronic home detection. The fines for these offenses can be as much as $5,000.

With a third DUI you’ll be spending at least 90 days in jail with 150 days of electronic home detection and four years of license suspension.

Every level of DUI conviction in Washington also comes with mandatory attendance in an alcohol evaluation and treatment program. You’ll also be required to obtain a special SR-22 auto insurance policy. A judge can also require you to install an ignition interlock device which will prevent you from starting your car unless you are sober.

Washington DUI Implied Consent Laws

With the Implied Consent laws you are required to submit to any form of test to determine you blood alcohol content. If you refuse to take these tests your license will be revoked for one year, you’ll face a special hearing with an additional fine of $100 and you’ll need to carry SR-22 insurance for three years.

Additional Washington DUI Laws

For minors under the legal drinking age of 21, the BAC level for a DUI conviction drops to .02. With a commercial driver, that BAC level is .04. These same laws apply to anyone driving a vehicle that is found to be under the influence of marijuana, inhalants, cocaine or any other form of intoxicants.

What to Do Next

Criminal defense cases have a series of stages that occur in almost every case. Here is an outline of what to expect at each stage.

Being Charged With a Crime

A misdemeanor criminal prosecution may be initiated in three ways. The most common way is for an officer to issue a “ticket” charging you with the crime. The ticket will have the case number, the crime charged and will let you know whether to make a court date for the arraignment or whether one is assigned to you.

An arraignment is typically the first time someone who is charged with a crime goes to court. At this stage, the court will verify your identity, make sure that you are aware of the charges against you and ask how you plea to that charge.

The first appearance is generally held at the same time as arraignment and is where the court can impose conditions of release. These are rules that you must follow in order to remain free while your charge is pending. This can include the requirement to post a bond, not be charged with any more crimes, not to have contact with alleged victims, as well as other conditions the court believes are necessary to ensure the

Right to a Speedy Trial

If a defendant remains in custody after arraignment, he must be brought to trial within 60 days of the arraignment. If he is released from jail, he must be brought to trial within 90 days of the arraignment. If a defendant remains in custody after arraignment, he must be brought to trial within 60 days of the arraignment. If he is released from jail, he must be brought to trial within 90 days of the arraignment.

Pre-Trial Hearing

A Pre-Trial hearing date is set at arraignment. The Pre-Trial hearing is set to determine the status of a case: There are a few potential outcomes at these hearings. If negotiations have been successful a plea may be entered and a sentencing date will be scheduled; If more time is needed for investigation or negotiations the Pre-Trial hearing may be continued to a later date;  or, if negotiations are unsuccessful a Trial date can be set. A Pre-Trial hearing date is set at arraignment. The Pre-Trial hearing is set to determine the status of a case: There are a few potential outcomes at these hearings. If negotiations have been successful a plea may be entered and a sentencing date will be scheduled; If more time is needed for investigation or negotiations the Pre-Trial hearing may be continued to a later date;  or, if negotiations are unsuccessful a Trial date can be set.

Trial

  • Jury Selection (Voir Dire)
  • Opening Statements
  • Examination of Witnesses
  • Jury Instructions
  • Closing Arguments
  • Verdict

Washington State DUI FAQ

“Per Se” or over the limit.

RCW 46.61.502(1)(a) makes it illegal to drive in Washington and have an alcohol concentration of .08 or higher within 2 hours of driving. It is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content at or above this level regardless of whether the person driving was “drunk.” It does not matter if a person appears perfectly normal, if a breath or blood test shows an alcohol concentration of .08 or higher, it is illegal.

Affected By

RCW46.61.502(1)(b) and (c) make it illegal to drive in Washington while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination. These sections are used if there is no alcohol testing or if the testing shows a concentration below the .08 level. To show that a person is “under the influence”; the government must show that a person’s ability to drive was impaired to an appreciable degree. This is where the Officer’s observations and Field Sobriety Tests are used.

Physical Control of a Vehicle

RCW 46.61.504 makes it illegal to be in Physical Control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This charge does not require proof that the person charged was driving. All that is needed is to show that the person was capable of exerting control over the vehicle.

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

Washington has a sentencing scheme for those convicted of DUI that is based on two factors. First is the number of prior DUI convictions a person has within the last 7years. Second is the alcohol concentration. The lowest level DUI or “1A” requires a minimum of one day in jail and $865.50 in fines if convicted or a guilty plea is entered. For a complete breakdown of the minimum sentences, look at the sentencing grid.

Prior Convictions

For sentencing, Washington looks at prior DUI convictions from the last seven years. Included in this are all DUI convictions from Washington and other States as well as convictions for: Physical Control, Vehicular Assault and Vehicular Homicide if committed while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Also included are convictions for Negligent Driving 1st Degree, Reckless Driving and Reckless Endangerment if the charges were originally filed as DUI or Physical Control.

Department of Licensing

Being arrested for DUI triggers two independent cases. One is the criminal case and the other is with the Washington State Department of Licensing. You have 20 days from arrest or notice of action to request a hearing with DoL. You can request a hearing on line here.  If you do not request the hearing in time, your license will be suspended. Suspensions last from 90 days to 2 years depending on whether you took the breath test and how many prior suspensions you have had.

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