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. Unlike most other criminal charges, a conviction for DUI entails both maximum and mandatory minimum sentences. The basic penalties are summarized on theDUI Penalty Chart and herein. Be advised, however, that 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 many 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. 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 home detention option is available only if there are no prior DUI offenses within seven years.

The imposition of actual jail is required subject to one narrowly construed exception underRCW 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.” There are no standards defined in the law as to 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 might also be served in the Yakima County Jail pursuant to contract. 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 theSnohomish County Jail. Previously there was an option to serve 24 hours at the Monroe Fairgrounds DUI program but budgetary constraints have eliminated that program.

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 $125 is also imposed. You pay this for taking or refusing the breath test. When the law authorizing the BAC fee was originally enacted, the money was earmarked for use by the State Patrol to purchase, upgrade or maintain new breath testing machines. The money now has been diverted into a general fund. 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.

An ignition interlock license is required for one year after reinstatement of the license. It is then illegal for you to drive any car unless that car 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. The ignition interlock license doesn’t look like a normal license, but it is the size of a letter-sized piece of paper. There is an exception to ignition interlock requirement for vehicles owned by an employer and driven as a condition of employment. More information about the ignition interlock restrictions is found here.

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, of “informal” probation, where the court periodically checks your court file and record to determine compliance with the many conditions of probation. For a DUI occurring in Seattle or King County, probation fees are typically $40/month. Many different kinds 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 additional days of confinement, and an additional thirty day license suspension. These include driving without a license and insurance, refusing the breath test if lawfully asked to do so by a police officer, and driving with a BAC of .08 or higher.

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, and the law has a restriction upon moving out of state without prior permission from the Department of Corrections and a transfer of probation. If the driver previously was required 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.