Is the .08 Law a Half Truth?

Washington State has done a good job of publicizing that if you drive at .08 or higher, you will be prosecuted. What the average driver does not know is that Washington has in fact abandoned the concept of a “legal limit” in favor of prosecuting any drinking driver, even if the driver’s breath test is well under the legal limit. The .08 limit is a half truth. I know. My firm has represented numerous citizens in Whatcom county and elsewhere who were well under the legal limit of .08 but they were still prosecuted. One clients breath test was .02 and she was still charged with DUI. How can this be? It happens because there are two distinct sections in our DUI law. One part says sets forth the .08 legal limit but the other part says you can be charged with DUI if you are under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor. Surprisingly, a driver who knows he is under the .08 legal limit will still be charged with a DUI if the police officer who stopped him forms an opinion that he is affected by alcohol. This opinion will be based upon the officers observations of the driver and the drivers performance on field sobriety tests. If you are under the legal limit and yet charged with DUI you will face an experienced prosecutor and a harrowing journey through the legal system. If a plea bargain is offered, such as a reduction to Reckless or Negligent driving, you may be intimidated into taking the deal because the prospect of going to trial and possibly being convicted of DUI is so terrifying. This is how you can wind up with a criminal record without ever blowing over a .08.The road signs you see announcing the .08 legal limit are a half-truth. The whole truth is that being under .08 is no safe harbor from being prosecuted for DUI. And refusing the breath test will only make things worse. Even if you are found innocent of DUI, refusing to take the test will result in a years revocation of your license by the Department of Licensing. If you are convicted of DUI after refusing the breath test, you’ll lose your license for two years even if you previously had a clean criminal record. Who says our DUI laws are not tough? Taken together with the real but unannounced policy of ‘no tolerance’ towards any drinking driver, citizens are on notice: don’t rely on being under .08 to keep you out of jail.