If you are reading this after having been arrested for DUI, stiff Washington State DUI penalties loom large and may dramatically affect your life. Don’t panic – a DUI arrest is serious but defending this charge is possible. Below are key aspects of Washington’s DUI laws. They are likely the toughest in the nation, but in most cases this is not career-ending and if jail is imposed, with good representation, jail can likely be limited to the mandatory minimum. My goal for you is (1) to avoid a DUI conviction and (2) to shoulder the stress of the situation, so that you don’t have to do so. Below are the key points of Washington’s DUI laws:
.08 Legal Limit
A few years back, Washington state lowered the legal limit to .08% in order to make it easier for prosecutors to win DUI convictions. This change has swept into the dragnet numerous productive citizens, with no prior criminal history, who now must either defend the DUI charge or accept potentially career-ending consequences imposed by the mandatory provisions of the DUI laws. The average citizen has little or no warning as to when one is “legal” at .07% or violating the law at .08%. In addition, it is not uncommon for prosecutors to charge DUI even though the reading is under the legal limit. The system and the potential consequences are frightening. If you are viewing this page because you were recently been arrested for DUI, read on for a summary of the penalties set forth in the law. The information provided here may seem overwhelming but remember, an experienced DUI defense attorney will give you the advice that fits your precise situation. It is also important to understand that every situation is different—the information below is necessarily general in nature and might not exactly apply to your situation.
License Suspension Even If You Are Not Convicted
After arrest for DUI, if you took the breath test with a reading at or above the legal limit OR if you refused to take the test, you are on notice that the Department of Licensing (DOL) intends to suspend your license.
It doesn’t matter to the DOL that you might eventually be proven “not guilty” in a court of law. The legal term for this process is “administrative action” but the driver who is targeted probably calls it punishment without a conviction. If your breath test result is .08 or higher or if you refused to take test, the arresting officer will report you to the Department of Licensing (DOL). The same process happens to a minor who takes the test with readings of .02 or higher, or who refuses the test. The DOL will suspend the license for at least 90 days if you took the test or revoke it for at least one year if you refused the test.
Then you will be required to file proof of financial responsibility (high risk insurance) for three years thereafter, the same as if you had been convicted of the DUI charge. All this can happen without even being charged with DUI, and even if you are charged with DUI but you win the case at trial. Suspension or revocation periods are longer if you have had a previous “administrative action” at the hands of the DOL within seven years of the date of the current arrest.
You can fight the suspension or revocation of your license. The arresting officer should have given you a notice and DOL form entitled Driver’s Hearing Request if you took a breath test and the result was .08 or higher, or if you refused the test. (If you took a blood test, usually the Department of Licensing will send the notice and form to you.) Your only chance to fight the automatic suspension of your license is to timely mail the Hearing Request to the DOL along with a check for $375.00 (the fee can be waived if you are indigent.) You can also request the hearing online at the DOL Portal: https://www.dol.wa.gov/licenseexpress.html
If you take no action or miss the deadline the DOL will suspend or revoke your license. This is true even if you have valid legal defenses to the DOL action and even if you are found innocent of the DUI charge.
In the event of a license suspension or revocation, you can apply for an “ignition interlock license.” The ignition interlock is a breath test device that is attached to the ignition wiring of the car and must be blown into before the vehicle will start, and periodically while driving. The Department of licensing requires the filing of financial responsibility (SR22 insurance) as a condition of granting an ignition interlock license. An individual who is granted an ignition interlock license is not restricted as to time or place of driving for personal vehicles. In addition, (and this might save the jobs of some drivers,) there is an exception for employer – owned vehicles driven by an employee on legitimate company business during company hours. To use this exception, however, the employee must obtain the employer’s signature on a Department of licensing ignition interlock form certifying that it is necessary that the employee drive for the company. This presents a problem to any employee who wishes to maintain his/her privacy about being charged with DUI.
For most people, the opportunity to fight to save the driver’s license is critical, so make sure you don’t miss the deadline to request a hearing. An experienced DUI defense attorney can give you a fighting chance to save your license. The new laws provide a complex matrix of choices that can only effectively be made if the proper considerations are weighed at an early stage.
Mandatory Jail; Permanent Record
For a first offense, the judge has the power to impose up to one year in jail and a fine of $5,000. That is the maximum sentence, which would be imposed only in the most egregious cases. The mandatory minimum sentence applies to most DUI cases. Thus, even where the accused has absolutely no criminal history and is a productive citizen, the judge is required by law to impose the mandatory minimum sentence, remaining free to impose a harsher sentence if circumstances warrant. If there is no criminal history, and the breath test reading is under .15%, one day in jail, a fine, probation and additional license suspension are required to be imposed. If .15% or higher (or the test was refused,) two days in jail are mandatory along with a higher fine and a longer period of license suspension. If there were passengers in the car, the judge must consider that fact when imposing sentence, and may increase the sentence based upon this fact. The judge also has the power to require first offense jail time to be served in your home by imposing electronic home detention. If this option is ordered, the length of home detention is fifteen days in exchange for not serving one day of jail. Thus, one day of “real” jail can be satisfied by serving no less than fifteen days on home detention and two days in jail can be served by no less than thirty days home detention.
Electronic home detention is not cheap, and you will be required to pay the cost of it. Five years of probation may also be imposed along with a monthly “monitoring fee.” All the penalties rise dramatically if there is a prior conviction for DUI. For a second conviction within seven years, where the breath test was under .15%, thirty days in jail followed by sixty days electronic home detention is the minimum. If the breath test was .15% or higher (or the test was refused) 45 days in jail followed by ninety days electronic home detention is the minimum. In all cases, the court is required to keep a permanent record of the conviction.
Stiff Penalties for Probation Violations
One of the relatively unknown, but quite important aspects of Washington State’s DUI law is that probation violations are dealt with very harshly. By law, a judge is required to impose a number of conditions of probation which will be in effect for potentially a five-year term of probation. These include not driving a motor vehicle without a valid license and insurance, not driving a vehicle with an alcohol concentration of .08 or more within two hours of driving and not refusing to submit to a test of breath or blood upon lawful request of a police officer, among others. If the court finds that certain of these violations have occurred, then the law states as follows: “the court shall order the convicted person to be confined for thirty days, which shall not be suspended or deferred.” This is the penalty that would be imposed upon a person who was convicted of a first offense DUI who violates any of the mandatory probation conditions.
Many Washington State DUI courts schedule periodic reviews to determine compliance with the conditions of probation. Other courts have very active and effective probation departments. Examples of these include the Seattle DUI Probation office, and the King County DUI probation Department.
Lengthy License Suspensions after Conviction
In addition to the “administrative” suspension of your license handed down by the DOL for a DUI arrest, a DUI conviction carries with is a separate, additional license suspension. On a first conviction, the additional license suspension is 90 days if the alcohol reading was under .15%. If .15% or more, your license is revoked for a minimum of one year. If the breath test was refused, on a first offense conviction there is a two year suspension. Subsequent convictions produce dramatically longer license suspensions. If you have served an administrative license suspension arising out of the same incident, the DOL should credit you for this against any future license suspension/revocation imposed after conviction for the same offense.
The ignition interlock is a breath testing machine that is connected to the wiring in your car and which prevents your car from starting if you have alcohol on your breath. A camera is mounted in your car that takes a picture of the individual blowing into the interlock. The ignition interlock device is required for at least one year after the license has been reinstated after a DUI conviction, and an ignition interlock is required if one wishes to drive during an administrative license suspension imposed by the Department of licensing. Depending upon whether an ignition interlock has previously been required by the Department of licensing, the ignition interlock may be required by the Department of licensing for up to 10 years.
An ignition interlock is also required if a driver should choose to apply for the “ignition interlock license.” If driving on an ignition interlock license you are permitted to drive so long as the vehicle being driven is equipped with an ignition interlock device.