Negligent Driving First Degree or a DUI Trial?

A good defense attorney not only prepares for trial, he or she also negotiates with the prosecution in order to persuade the prosecutor to offer a reduced charge. The question that the client must then answer is: Do I accept a plea to the reduced charge or do I go to trial and risk a DUI conviction?

A vast majority of the Fox Bowman Duarte clients have zero criminal history yet they find themselves in unfamiliar territory because they were arrested for drunk driving. These people are your neighbors, friends or relatives. They range in age from 16 to as old as 85. They are your auto mechanic, family doctor or an executive at an emerging startup. Their first encounter with the criminal justice system is terrifying and humbling. They have lived their entire lives obeying the law.

In many cases, our attorneys are able to secure an offer from the prosecutor to reduce the charge. In most cases, the best offer that a prosecutor will make is a reduction to Negligent Driving in the First Degree. This is defined by RCW 46.61.5249:

"A person is guilty of negligent driving in the first degree if he or she operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property, and exhibits the effects of having consumed liquor or an illegal drug."

Accepting an offer of reduction means the DUI is gone but still, accepting the offer means pleading guilty to a crime (in this example, Negligent Driving). Pleading guilty to any crime is a weighty consideration and so one must consider: “Do I accept the offer or do I go to trial and risk a DUI conviction?”

Every DUI case is different and each evidentiary fact must be weighed and evaluated thoroughly for each client. Fox Bowman Duarte attorneys know all of the pertinent considerations. This post cannot be construed as encouraging anyone to accept such a particular plea bargain, but it is meant to highlight some of the advantages of a Neg 1 conviction over a DUI conviction.

A DUI conviction in the State of Washington will trigger MANDATORY DUI penalties. The court will review your past criminal history and determine if there are any previous DUI convictions. The court must also review the breath test reading. The Washington State DUI penalties are enhanced if the blood alcohol reading is equal to or greater than 0.15.

This much is assured with a first DUI conviction:

  • 24 to 48 hours in a jail facility;
  • $1,200 to $2,000 in fines, fees and assessments;
  • 90 days to a year or more of a driver's license suspension;
  • 3 years of SR-22 high risk insurance when you are able to regain your driving privilege;
  • Ignition interlock device installed in every vehicle you operate with very limited exceptions;
  • 5 years of probation;
  • Attending an alcohol evaluation;
  • Attending a DUI Victim's Impact Panel; and
  • Being banned from entering Canada;

Those are all MANDATORY penalties for a first time DUI conviction. Now here are the mandatory penalties for Negligent Driving in the First Degree:

  • None

Negligent Driving, First Degree is a crime but there are no mandatory penalties. Of course a judge has discretion to impose the maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, a DUI conviction carries a maximum penalty of 365 days in jail and $5,000 fine. So again the DUI conviction has more risk. Keep in mind the maximum is rarely imposed, but every crime must have a maximum penalty according to our legislature.

A plea bargain will almost always require you serve some punishment. Since there are no mandatory penalties with Negligent Driving, First Degree your attorney negotiates that punishment, always keeping in mind your priorities and objectives. A majority of such bargains require a fine, some community service, a victim’s panel, alcohol assessment and 2 years of probation. Pain yes, but you will avoid the possibility of mandatory jail, a license suspension, massive fees, the ignition interlock device etc., as these are among the risks that come with taking a DUI case to trial.

Plea bargains are not offered in every case and when they do occur, they are generally won after a long and hard fight by your aggressive and experienced DUI defense attorney. There are also instances where accepting such an offer is not sound advice and going to trial is the best option. These are weighty decisions and they are best made based upon the experience and advice of your defense lawyer. Please contact one of us at Fox Bowman Duarte to ensure a thorough Washington State DUI defense. We are here to protect your rights and interests.