Do I have to go to Jail for a DUI?

The possibility of serving time in jail is one of the most frightening things about being arrested for DUI. Many Washington State Patrol troopers routinely book into jail every person they arrest, thus many people already have had a view of what jail can be like. It is an unpleasant experience all around. For a first conviction for DUI, RCW 46.61.5055 requires the judge to impose a day in jail (a full 24 hours). Therefore, if an individual was booked into jail and served 12 hours in jail, the law does not permit the judge to grant credit for time served and the convicted individual will be still required to serve the full 24 hours in jail at a minimum. However, there are several alternatives to jail that, depending upon circumstances, may apply. The first is that the law permits, in the case of a first DUI conviction, service of electronic home detention instead of jail. However, it takes fifteen days of electronic home detention to replace one day in jail. That’s fifteen days of restricted liberty to avoid one day of restricted liberty. On the plus side, an individual on electronic home detention is allowed to go to work, but generally, otherwise, the individual must remain at home. The second alternative that can avoid jail is the exception stated in the law as follows: “Twenty-four consecutive hours of the imprisonment may not be suspended or deferred unless the court finds that the imposition of this mandatory minimum sentence would impose a substantial risk to the offender's physical or mental well-being.” Our firm has successfully argued for this exception and with proper preparation and documentation, courts are willing to suspend the imposition of jail. However, most judges will replace the jail requirement with electronic home monitoring, as discussed above, so this alternative is more useful where an individual is facing substantial jail time due to prior DUI offenses. It is worth emphasizing that judges will only grant this exception with presented with appropriate documentation, usually in the form of medical or psychological reports bolstered, where necessary, with supporting testimony. A third legal alternative that will avoid the imposition of jail is the deferred prosecution alternative authorized under RCW 10.05. This alternative applies in the case of an individual who is alcoholic, drug dependant, or suffering from mental health issues. In essence, if the individual commits to treatment and waives trial rights, the judge may “defer” prosecution for five years. During this time the treatment program is completed and the individual must strictly comply with court and DOL imposed conditions. Upon successful completion, the case is dismissed. There is much more to a deferred prosecution than is covered here, but it does avoid jail time. However, a deferred prosecution should not be used simply as a way out of jail, but as needed treatment for a problem. If an individual does not succeed in a deferred prosecution, a DUI conviction will follow and with it, jail. There is another alternative to jail time – successfully litigating a DUI case and either winning at trial or securing a reduction of the charge that does have a mandatory jail penalty. It is important to consider all the alternative outcomes to the case early on when deciding how to proceed next when one is arrested for DUI.