What Will Happen If I Am Found Guilty of DUI?

What Will Happen If I Am Found Guilty of DUI? The goal, of course, is to avoid a DUI conviction by asserting an effective defense. In the unhappy event that a DUI conviction occurs, Washington State DUI laws set forth a myriad of penalties. These are mainly set forth in RCW 46.61.5055. Unlike most other criminal charges, a conviction for DUI entails both maximum and mandatory minimum sentences. The specific penalty a judge might impose beyond the minimum penalty depends upon the facts of the case, the criminal record, and the presentation made by your DUI defense attorney at the time sentence is imposed and throughout the case. A person found guilty of even a first offense DUI in Washington faces jail, stiff fines, long periods of probation with many restrictions and conditions, electronic home detention, license suspensions and restrictions on the license, an alcohol evaluation and up to two years of alcohol treatment. Every phase of a DUI sentence costs money and the total cost of a conviction can be staggering. DUI is a misdemeanor, but the sentence and complications are more severe than some felony charges.

It is difficult to generalize about sentences, since every DUI case and every individual has unique facts, history and circumstances. The presentation made at the time sentence is imposed can make a difference and certainly, the skill and reputation of the DUI attorney representing the accused can positively impact the sentence. But even the mandatory minimum sentence for a first DUI conviction is an onerous punishment. Here is a typical “mandatory minimum” sentence for a first offense with a “low” (under .15%) breath test.

One year in jail is imposed, even on a first DUI offense with a “low” breath test. However, once it is imposed all but one day is usually “suspended” in a low breath test case pending successful completion of all the conditions of probation. This minimum sentence must be served as twenty-four hours of consecutive confinement in jail, which means that an individual who was booked into jail and bailed out after fifteen miserable hours in the slammer can receive no “set off” against the jail sentence to be served because the remaining seven hours of jail are not part of a 24 hour consecutive jail term. The judge has the power to require that the jail be served as electronic home detention and this might seem to be a desirable alternative in some circumstances. However, the law requires a fifteen-to-one conversion if the sentence is served on home detention. Thus, the one-day sentence the judge imposed turns into a fifteen-day sentence on home detention, with you paying a “rental” fee for the electronic equipment for each of those days. 

The imposition of actual jail is required subject to one narrowly construed exception under RCW 46.61.5055 (the DUI sentencing statute). The judge cannot suspend the imposition of jail “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.” The law does not specify what constitutes a “substantial risk” to the offender’s physical or mental well-being, but judges will grant this exception only if substantial evidence is presented on behalf of the accused.

If jail is required to be served, it is sometimes difficult to determine which jail facility will be used because some cities contract with other cities to provide jail facilities. For a DUI in King County or a DUI in Seattle, for instance, jail might be served in the King County Jail or at the Regional Justice Center Jail. However, a City of Seattle DUI jail sentence was once served in the served in the Yakima County Jail pursuant to contract (the Issaquah jail is used now). In the case of a Bellevue DUI, it is likely that jail would be served at the Issaquah Jail, which is under contract with Bellevue. For DUI cases in the City of Kirkland, the only option is the Kirkland Jail. For Snohomish County DUI cases, jail sentences are typically served in the Snohomish County Jail. 

Typically, a $5,000 fine is imposed with $4,650 “suspended,” plus costs and assessments. The court has the power to impose the balance of the fine if there are any violations of probationary conditions imposed. A “BAC” fee of $250 is also imposed. You pay this for taking the breath test. There are a number of other “taxes and assessments” on a DUI fine which add up quickly. The total typical fine imposed in a first offense “low breath test” case is nearly $1,000.00. But the fine is only the tip of the iceberg of costs and obligations for one convicted of DUI. Probation fees can be charged at up to $50.00 per month for a 60 month term of probation.

An ignition interlock is required for at least one year after reinstatement of the license. During that year, a driver is restricted to driving a car that has a state-approved breath testing device installed which prevents the car from starting if you have alcohol on your breath beyond a set tolerance level. There is an exception to ignition interlock requirement for vehicles owned by an employer and driven as a condition of employment. That exception allows you to drive an employer-owned vehicle during work hours, on work business, without an interlock. However, an interlock on your personal car is still required.

An alcohol evaluation is required upon conviction. The results of the evaluation dictate whether alcohol education classes or alcohol treatment must be completed. On the lowest end of the scale, a minimum of an eight-hour “alcohol information school” and one session of the “DUI Victim’s Panel” are required. On the higher end of the scale, up to two years of intensive alcohol treatment at a state approved alcohol agency is required. The two year program consists of three “phases” of varying intensity, with the first “intensive” phase typically including four lengthy group meetings on a weekly basis. In addition, weekly AA (Alcoholics Anonymous or other self-help support group) meetings are required as part of the entire two year program. Whatever treatment/classes are imposed, the accused bears the cost, which can amount to many thousands of dollars for extensive or long term treatment. The court has the power to impose the balance of the “suspended” jail mentioned above if the treatment is not completed as required.

A license suspension of at least 90 days must be imposed, and this is separate from the license suspension imposed “administratively” at the hands of the Department of Licensing. However, if you previously served the 90 day suspension, the law provides that you will get “credit for time served” on the new suspension. The requirement of filing “proof of financial responsibility” for three years with the Department of Licensing is imposed, and for most people this translates into a huge financial burden in the form of “high risk” insurance. Driving is allowed during the period of suspension only if the driver has an ignition interlock license and is driving a car with an ignition interlock device installed, subject only to the “employer’s car” exception discussed above.

Up to five years of probation may be imposed, with the judge deciding whether it will be “formal” probation where you regularly report to a probation officer, or “informal” probation, where the court periodically checks your court file and record to determine compliance with the many conditions of probation. Many different types of probationary restrictions may be imposed and the court has the power to impose the balance of the “suspended” jail and fine upon a probation violation. There are certain probation violations which require the judge to impose a mandatory minimum of thirty days of additional confinement, and an additional thirty day license suspension. These are set forth in RCW 46.61.5055 (11) as follows:

(11) Conditions of probation. 

(a) In addition to any nonsuspendable and nondeferrable jail sentence required by this section, whenever the court imposes up to three hundred sixty-four days in jail, the court shall also suspend but shall not defer a period of confinement for a period not exceeding five years. The court shall impose conditions of probation that include: (i) Not driving a motor vehicle within this state without a valid license to drive; (ii) not driving a motor vehicle within this state without proof of liability insurance or other financial responsibility for the future pursuant to RCW 46.30.020; (iii) not driving or being in physical control of a motor vehicle within this state while having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more or a THC concentration of 5.00 nanograms per milliliter of whole blood or higher, within two hours after driving; (iv) not refusing to submit to a test of his or her breath or blood to determine alcohol or drug concentration upon request of a law enforcement officer who has reasonable grounds to believe the person was driving or was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle within this state while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drug; and (v) not driving a motor vehicle in this state without a functioning ignition interlock device as required by the department under RCW 46.20.720. The court may impose conditions of probation that include nonrepetition, installation of an ignition interlock device on the probationer's motor vehicle, alcohol or drug treatment, supervised probation, or other conditions that may be appropriate. The sentence may be imposed in whole or in part upon violation of a condition of probation during the suspension period.

(b) For each violation of mandatory conditions of probation under (a)(i), (ii), (iii), (iv), or (v) of this subsection, the court shall order the convicted person to be confined for thirty days, which shall not be suspended or deferred.

(c) For each incident involving a violation of a mandatory condition of probation imposed under this subsection, the license, permit, or privilege to drive of the person shall be suspended by the court for thirty days or, if such license, permit, or privilege to drive already is suspended, revoked, or denied at the time the finding of probation violation is made, the suspension, revocation, or denial then in effect shall be extended by thirty days. The court shall notify the department of any suspension, revocation, or denial or any extension of a suspension, revocation, or denial imposed under this subsection.

The consequences listed here are a summary of the “minimum” consequences which will be imposed in a first offense “low breath test” case. However, the penalties go up from these minimums depending upon the defendant’s record and the facts of the case. For instance, for a second offense, at least 30 days jail and a two-year license revocation are imposed on conviction, and Federal law has a restriction pursuant to the Interstate Compact on Adult Offender Supervision upon moving out of state without prior permission from the Department of Corrections and a transfer of probation. If the driver previously was required by DOL to have an ignition interlock, then the ignition interlock requirement will be imposed for at least five years.

There is never any guarantee that a judge will impose the minimum sentence and upon a DUI conviction the judge has the power to impose up to the maximum sentence and not even state a reason for doing so. However, the reality is that most judges will impose no more than the mandatory minimum if the case is properly presented and there are no “aggravating factors.” A competent DUI attorney will always be familiar with the sentencing practices of the judge who is presiding over the matter and will know how best to present the case to that judge. Effective representation at every stage of the case will enhance the opportunity to minimize the legal consequences if a DUI conviction occurs.