- Driving Under the Influence in Washington State
You may know that the legal limit in Washington State is .08. What you probably do not know is that you can reach, or exceed that limit after consuming as little as three or four drinks. You probably are also unaware that you can be charged with and prosecuted for DUI even if a test of your breath or blood reveals that you are not legally intoxicated. All it takes is the determination of a law enforcement officer that you were driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any drug, regardless of the amount of alcohol or drugs in your system. The fact that your doctor may have prescribed the drug you were taking makes no difference under the law; you can still be charged and convicted of DUI if you are found to be under the influence of that drug. If you are under 21 years of age, you can be charged with and prosecuted for “Minor DUI” or Driver Under 21 Consuming Alcohol if you had a breath or blood alcohol content of .02 or more.
If you are charged with DUI in Washington State
Pelley Law, PLLC will set up an appointment to meet with one of our Seattle DUI attorneys in our office as soon as possible after your arrest. Remember, the initial consultation is always free. Together, we will formulate a strategy to best represent you and your goals in dealing with this charge. We will:
- Talk to you about the night of the arrest. It is vital that we create a written record of your recollections of that night as soon as possible. Over time, memory fades and crucial evidence may be lost.
- Ensure that all forms and necessary fees are received by the Department of Licensing to contest the administrative suspension of your license. Again, if these deadlines are missed, a license suspension will result.
- Represent you at all hearings, both in court and before the Department of Licensing. We will be by your side to advocate for you every step of the way, to ensure that your rights are preserved and the best possible outcome of your case is achieved.
- Guide you through the process of obtaining an alcohol evaluation by a reputable and ethical treatment agency, and ensure that you are able to timely comply with all recommendations of that agency, including treatment and classes.
- Guide you through the process of obtaining an ignition interlock device license, if necessary.
- Help you find a reasonably priced provider for high risk auto insurance.
- Communicate with you regularly regarding developments in your case, including document preparation, plea negotiations with the government, and trial strategy. We will strive to ensure that you fully understand the ramifications of each step of the process, including accepting or rejecting “deals” proposed by the prosecution and moving forward to motion hearings or trial.
- What is the best way to prevent a DUI charge? Well, obviously, not drinking and driving. However, drinking and driving is not in and of itself illegal in the State of Washington; driving while impaired is. If you are going to drink and drive, follow these tips to avoid getting pulled over in the first place, and, if you are pulled over, to minimize the government’s evidence against you:
- Obey all traffic laws. Don’t speed, use your turn signals, stop at red lights, etc. Drivers are often pulled over for minor traffic infractions, and, after the officer smells alcohol, a DUI arrest ensues.
- Make sure all equipment is functioning properly on your car. This includes headlights, turn signals, taillights, license plate lights, etc. At two in the morning, officers are looking for a reason to pull you over, and a faulty taillight is just the ticket.
- If at any point after you begin driving you begin feeling impaired, pull over to a safe location and call for a ride. If you decide to “sleep it off” in your car, take the keys out of the ignition and crawl into the back seat.
- If you are pulled over, have your license, registration, and insurance ready when the officer approaches. Fumbling for these documents is one of the clues officers look for to determine whether a driver is impaired.
- DON’T admit to drinking. But don’t lie either. If the officer asks, simply stay silent, or tell him you would like to speak to an attorney before answering questions. Your silence or your request for counsel cannot later be used against you in court as can an admission.
- DON’T complete field tests. If the officer is asking you to do field tests, chances are he has already decided to arrest you. The field tests are difficult to pass under the best of circumstances. If you have been drinking, all you will be doing by completing these tests is providing the government with evidence against you.
- DO ask for counsel at your first opportunity. And keep asking until you are connected to an attorney. Our office can be contacted any time, day or night. Keep our emergency number in your purse or wallet, tell the officer where the number is located, and insist on calling us. If you are unable to reach us for any reason, DO insist on speaking to a public defender.
- DON’T answer any questions after your arrest. Even seemingly innocent questions, such as the date or time can provide evidence of impairment if answered incorrectly.
- DO ask to speak with a lawyer before you take the breath test. The penalties for refusal are almost always harsher than the penalties for taking the test but this is best determined by speaking with an attorney. Additionally, breath test evidence can be attacked in court on a technical basis; refusal evidence almost always comes in.
- If you have questions regarding the breath test or the penalties for taking or refusing the test, ask the officer. Keep asking until you understand. Ask to speak to counsel again if you need to do so.
- DO ask for additional tests. You have the right to an additional test of your breath or blood, administered by a person of your choosing, after you have submitted to a breath test. Exercise of that right can provide evidence in your favor, and the government’s failure or refusal to assist you in your exercise of this right can lead to the exclusion of their evidence against you.
- DO contact a Seattle DUI lawyer the next day. Action to minimize the impact of the charge must be taken immediately. As noted above, if you wish to contest the suspension of your license, you must ask for a hearing before the Department of Licensing within twenty days. There are often court dates and other deadlines that must be met as well. Our job is to be your advocate through this often confusing and emotional process.
- A DUI in Washington State is classified as a gross misdemeanor, with maximum penalties of up to a year in jail and a $5,000.00 fine, in addition to license suspensions. There are mandatory minimum sentences imposed for convictions, ranging from one or two days in jail, a fine of around $1,000.00, and a license suspension of up to a year for a first offense to 90 to 120 days in jail plus 120 to 150 days of electronic home monitoring, a fine of at least $1,500.00 and a license suspension of two years for a second or higher offense within seven years. Additionally, the fifth DUI in a ten-year period, or a DUI after a previous conviction of vehicular assault or vehicular homicide constitutes a Class C felony, punishable by imprisonment for no less than 9 months and up to seven years, depending on your criminal history.
Any jail time not imposed by the court during an additional sentence may be “suspended,” giving the court the option of imposing some or all of the additional time in the event of noncompliance with the terms of your sentence, which may include not drinking, not driving without a valid license and insurance, and not being charged with additional criminal offenses. One may also be required to obtain an ignition interlock device for your car. This is a device that will prevent a person from drinking and driving by requiring you to “pass” a breath test prior to allowing the car to start. A history of the breath tests is recorded in the device, and can be accessed through a computer printout. A probation officer can, and probably will, review this printout to ensure that the person is complying with the requirements of the device and with other terms of probation.
A person charged with DUI should be aware that penalties imposed for a second or third offense even if the person does not have a prior DUI conviction. If you were charged with DUI any time within the last seven years (calculated from the date of arrest), the charge alone will probably count as a “prior” even if you ultimately were sentenced to a lesser charge, such as Reckless Driving or Negligent Driving in the First Degree. Even a successfully completed deferred prosecution (more on this option below) will count as a prior if there is a new offense within seven years.
As well, if convicted of DUI, courts will require that the person obtain an alcohol evaluation by a licensed treatment agency, and require a follow up on all recommendations of the treatment agency. Be aware that not all treatment agencies are created equal. Some are all too aware of the financial gains to be had by evaluating a first-time offender with no indications of alcoholism as a hardened alcoholic and locking that person into years of treatment. Contact us before your evaluation for a list of reputable and ethical treatment providers. When you do report for your evaluation, do not sign a release allowing release of the information gathered by the treatment provider to anyone except your attorney.
However, penalties do not stop in the courts; a person accused of DUI will almost certainly have their driver’s license threatened. In fact, under the laws that took effect in January 2009, you have just twenty days from the date of your arrest to file a request for a hearing with the Department of Licensing. If you miss this deadline, your license will be suspended. The Department of Licensing can suspend or revoke your license for a DUI arrest even if you are acquitted of this charge in court. Suspensions range from 90 days to two years. The good news is that, under the new laws, most drivers charged with DUI as a result of alcohol consumption are eligible for an ignition interlock license, that is, a probationary license secured by the presence of an ignition interlock device in your car. One final, possible consequence is whether the person will need to obtain SR-22, or high risk insurance.
If you have a commercial driver’s license, your CDL is in jeopardy from the moment you are pulled over for DUI. If you refuse the breath test or submit a sample of over .08 while driving a personal vehicle, you could lose your personal driver’s license, without which you cannot operate a commercial vehicle with your CDL endorsement. If you are driving a commercial vehicle at the time you are pulled over, you will lose your CDL for at least 90 days and up to a year if you refuse the breath test or submit a breath sample of just .04 or more. If you have a CDL and are charged with DUI, it is crucial that you obtain legal representation to assist you in exploring the options for retaining your commercial license.
Our Seattle DUI Lawyer can guide you through entire process, including the criminal prosecution in the court and the administrative process before the Department of Licensing. We will represent you at all court and Department of Licensing hearings. If necessary, assist you in finding and complying with the evaluations and classes required by the courts and, guide you through the process of obtaining an ignition interlock license and finding the best rates on SR-22 insurance.
- A close look at the local news shows that the toxicology lab in Washington have had some serious shortcomings:
September 2000: State Patrol forensic scientist John Brown resigns while under investigation for concealing an error on a DNA test.
November 2001: Forensic scientist Michael Hoover confesses to sniffing heroin from evidence samples, pleads guilty to two misdemeanors and receives an 11-month jail sentence.
November 2002: Forensic scientist Arnold Melnikoff is placed on paid leave while under internal investigation after a complaint about his role in two wrongful rape convictions in Montana. He is accused of providing incorrect hair-analysis testimony.
April 2003: An internal audit of 100 drug-analysis tests done by Melnikoff finds flaws with 30 cases, something Melnikoff disputes.
March 2004: State Patrol fires Melnikoff.
July 2004: A P-I investigation documents that DNA errors and contamination by forensic scientists are a recurring problem in the crime lab.
December 2004: Forensic scientist Charles Vaughan’s lab work and testimony played a role in the state of Oregon’s murder case against two men who were wrongfully convicted in the 1980s, the P-I reports.
July 2007: Ann Marie Gordon, who managed the toxicology lab in Seattle since 2000, resigns after being accused of signing false statements related to ensuring the accuracy of breath-test machines.
This is the problem with Toxicology cases in Washington State: evidence presented to a jury who view that evidence as being absolute scientific fact. But as several cases in the state of Washington demonstrate, CSI technicians for Washington State are far from infallible. In fact it is quite easy for a lab technician to put their finger on the scales of justice.
- Some attorneys you contact after a DUI charge may tell you about a “wonderful” option to deal with the charge, an option that allows you to keep your license and even provides for dismissal of the charge. This option is called a “Deferred Prosecution.” It does allow you to keep your personal driver’s license, though CDL holders will still lose their commercial licenses, and, if you comply with the terms of the program, will eventually result in a dismissal of the DUI charge – at the end of a five year period. But a deferred prosecution is not the best option for most charged with a DUI, particularly those charged with a first offense. Why is this? The deferred prosecution program is designed to allow alcoholics who believe that the DUI charge against them was a result of their alcoholism a once in a lifetime chance to obtain treatment and get on the road to recovery, with the hope that, once sober, the alcoholic will not be back before the court on a new DUI charge.
By entering the program, you agree to a two-year intensive alcohol treatment program. If you decide not to complete the deferred prosecution, the court will still order you to complete this treatment program as a condition of your sentence for DUI. In addition, you agree not to drink or have any new law violations, including new DUIs, for the next five years. A new law violation may result in a revocation of the deferred prosecution. This means you will be convicted of the DUI with which you were originally charged, and will still have to complete the treatment program, as well as facing prosecution for new offenses. As well, you will be subject to random drug testing by the treatment agency. If you are found to have been drinking or using drugs, you may be subject to revocation of the deferred prosecution.
During the course of the deferred prosecution program, you will be on court-ordered probation, meaning you must report to a probation officer for regular appointments. These appointments may also include random drug testing. Failure to comply with any conditions set by probation can result in penalties, including jail time, or a revocation of the deferred prosecution.
Finally, as a condition of the deferred prosecution, you will agree not to drive without a valid license or insurance. Failure to have proper insurance, even if stopped for a speeding ticket, can result in penalties under the program.
As you can see, the deferred prosecution program is an intensive process, and should be considered only as a last resort for offenders who have had one or more prior DUI convictions, or those who truly believe themselves to be affected by the disease of alcoholism, and are ready to make a serious commitment to sobriety. Our office would be happy to further discuss this program with you and, if you do decide that a deferred prosecution is your best option, we can guide you through this process as well, including finding an appropriate treatment agency, entering paperwork with the court, and attending review hearings to monitor your progress.