DUI Sentencing

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Washington DUI Stats

Preventing motorists from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs remains a daunting challenge for state law enforcement. DUI fatalities in Washington State reached a six-year high in 2015, with 258.

This is despite Washington ranking among the toughest states on driving under the influence (DUI), according to a 2017 study by WalletHub. By using criteria measuring criminal penalties and prevention, WalletHub ranked Washington 15th among the 50 states plus District of Columbia.

DUI sentencing in Washington state

Sentencing guidelines for DUI are split into two tiers, based on the severity of the infraction. Drivers who have a blood alcohol (BAC) level of at least .15 face longer mandatory jail stays, higher fines and longer license suspension than those between .08 and .14. Drivers who refuse to take a breath test are treated the same as those with a .15 BAC.

The mandatory minimum punishments for .08-.14 BAC, first offense, include:

  • Jail time: 24 hours
  • Fine: $990.50
  • License suspension: 90 days

The mandatory minimum punishments for .15 and above BAC, first offense, include:

  • Jail time: 48 hours
  • Fine: $1,245.50
  • License suspension: 1 year

Sentences become continually harsher for second and then third offenses within a seven-year period. All drivers will spend at least 30 days in jail for a second offense and 90 days for a third. Three convictions in a 10-year period is a Class B felony.

In addition, all these penalties are further strengthened if the driver had a passenger 16 or younger at the time of arrest. For example, a person convicted of a first offense with a BAC between .08-14 can get an additional 24 hours in jail and six more months of license suspension, as well as a heftier fine, if there was a minor in the car.

Washington requires all drivers convicted of DUI to have an ignition interlock device placed on their car for at least one year after their license suspension ends — and pay $20 per month for the privilege. An ignition interlock device (IID) does not allow the car to start until the driver blows into the device to confirm they have not been drinking. Having a minor in the car increases the IID period for an additional six months.

Washington is one of 25 states that requires the IID for every conviction. The requirement and the length of its application are harsher than most, and are two reasons Washington landed 15th in the WalletHub rankings.

Vehicular assault and homicide

Driving under the influence also factors into conviction and sentencing for vehicular homicide and vehicular assault. A person is guilty of either if they operate a vehicle recklessly or under the influence. Vehicular homicide is a Class A felony in Washington State; vehicular assault is a Class B felony.

Deferred prosecution

Deferred prosecution for DUI is offered if alcoholism is considered the reason for committing the crime. In these cases, charges can be dismissed after two years if a person completes a stringent program that includes total abstinence from alcohol and “non-prescribed mind altering drugs,” a rehab program, ongoing self-help recovery and more. Pursuing deferred prosecution is not an option for everyone and should be examined on a case-by-case basis.

Injured by a Drunk Driver

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What if I am injured by a drunk driver?

If you are struck by a drunk driver in Washington State, your odds of being killed or seriously injured are higher than in any other type of auto collision. There were 6,033 accidents attributed to the influence of alcohol and drugs in 2015, according to data from the Washington Department of Transportation, with 237 fatalities and 299 serious injuries.

When medical bills and repair bills mount as the result of the actions of a drunk driver, it’s helpful to understand the path toward financial recovery through insurance claims and, potentially, lawsuits.

Accident responsibility

Washington is a pure comparative negligence state when it comes to assigning legal responsibility for accidents of any kind. In pure comparative negligence, the party who is responsible for the accident is also responsible for compensating victims for their damages. However, it’s not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. Each party may be considered to have a percentage of responsibility for an accident, and the awards are weighted accordingly.

For example, if a victim suffers $20,000 of damage in an accident, they may pursue that amount in a claim But if they are determined to have 10 percent of the responsibility for the accident, that $20,000 award will be reduced by 10 percent, or $2,000.

The insurance company of the responsible party might pursue a quick settlement, or seek to have you sign a liability release. Most likely it’s best to move slowly and not accept either one. Injuries can linger and their full impact could not be felt for months. Signing a release and accepting a settlement could leave you paying for those medical expenses down the road.

Unique to drunk driving

Drunk driving accidents do have a couple of legal characteristics that separate it from a standard auto collision.

First, DUI-related accidents have criminal proceedings attached for the drunk driver, separate from any insurance claim or civil action. For those pursuing legal action against a person who caused a drunk driving accident, this is another reason it’s often best wait and to allow the criminal case to conclude first. The defendant would have the DUI conviction on their record, which might weaken their standing in the eyes of a judge or jury for the civil case.

Also unique is the factor of dram shop liability. A “dram shop” is a term for an establishment where liquor is sold. Washington law allows a victims to sue an establishment that serves alcohol to someone who then causes a drunk driving accident,vin one of two cases:

Social host liability is related to dram shop liability, except that it applies primarily to private hosts rather than to a bar or tavern. In addition, the host can only be held responsible for a drunk driving accident if the driver determined to be at fault is a minor.

Dram shop liability and social host liability are especially useful to plaintiffs in cases where a drunk driver does not actually have insurance. Though drivers are legally required to have auto insurance, it’s estimated more than 17 percent of Washington drivers do not. This ranks seventh-most among the 50 states and District of Columbia.

Some drivers will keep between $10,000 and $35,000 of personal injury protection (PIP) that pays out no matter who is at fault. In many cases, however, the property damage and medical costs go well beyond that amount. If the responsible driver is uninsured, the dram shop liability might be the only recourse for compensation.

It should be noted that Washington does not put caps on damage awards in personal injury lawsuits, as state courts have ruled them unconstitutional.

 

Should I Refuse a Breathalyzer?

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Washington Breathalyzer Test

Police lights flashing in your rearview mirror can create anxiety. If the stop is because an officer suspects you are operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, anxiety might increase. Will you be thinking clearly enough to handle the situation if you asked to take a preliminary breath test (PBT)?

Washington, like all 50 states, has implied consent laws. Possessing a driver’s license implies consent to a breath test if you are suspected of driving under the influence. If you refuse to take a breath test, both in the field and later at the police station, an officer is supposed to inform you that you do indeed have a right of refusal.

Should I refuse the Breathalyzer?

However, at that same time the officer must notify you that refusing to take the test results in a mandatory 2-year license suspension at minimum for a first offense. If it is a second offense, the suspension is for 3 years. The penalties for refusing to take a Breathalyzer in Washington state are the same, or even harsher, as if you are convicted of driving with a blood alcohol level of .15 or more.

This suspension is an administrative suspension, administered by the Washington State Department of Licensing and not the courts. However, refusing to take the test can also be used against you in criminal DUI proceedings, and could be seen as an indirect admission of guilt.

What if I refused the Breathalyzer?

If you exercise that right to refuse the breath test, you might still be subject to a blood test. The law says that nothing prevents an officer from obtaining blood, “pursuant to a search warrant, a valid waiver of the warrant requirement, when exigent circumstances exist, or under any other authority of law.”

An experienced defense attorney from Twyford Law Office can help you determine if you have grounds to challenge a DUI charge. If a police officer has not properly explained implied consent, or made errors while administering breath tests or field sobriety tests, there may be grounds to reduce or dismiss the charges.

Can Police Search My Car?

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Can the Cops search my car?

In Washington, police cannot search a car without a search warrant. A warrant must be obtained from a court, and police must carry out the search within a certain designated time frame.

In 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a search warrant in order to search a vehicle. Even if the police have reason to suspect that a vehicle contains evidence of a crime, they still must obtain a warrant before proceeding with a search. Specifically, in the 2012 case State v. Snapp, the Washington Supreme Court found that searching a car for evidence of a crime when the driver has already been arrested is illegal under Article I, Section 7 of the state constitution.

Search Without a Warrant?

Some states allow police to search a car without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe the car contains evidence of a crime, but in Washington, not even probable cause makes a search without a warrant legal. However, without probable cause, police cannot obtain a search warrant. Washington law defines probable cause as “having more evidence for than against; a reasonable belief that a crime has or is being committed.”

If a police officer does not have a warrant, he or she cannot search the car without your permission. In such a case, you may respectfully decline to have your car or person searched; though in some cases, police are allowed to perform a quick pat-down of your clothes in order to check for weapons.

Exigent Circumstances

There are certain conditions under which police may search a car without a warrant: such as if immediate action is required to protect someone or prevent evidence from being destroyed. These are known as “exigent circumstances.”

If police stop your car, you should remain in your vehicle and maintain a calm, respectful attitude. Actions like getting out of your car without being asked or reaching underneath your seat can be construed as threatening. Turn on the interior light if it’s dark outside, and keep your hands on the steering wheel in plain sight.

If the officer asks to see your license, registration, or proof of insurance, the law requires you to comply. Do not argue with the officer, and restrain the urge to complain or resist. If you feel you have been treated unfairly, you should take your complaint to traffic court rather than argue with the police at the scene. Remember that anything you say can be used against you.

While you must show your license and registration if asked, you do have the right to refuse to answer any questions. If the police ask to search your car, and do not show you a warrant, you can refuse. If the officer says he or she has a search warrant, you should ask to see the warrant before letting him or her search your car. Be polite, but make it clear that you do not consent to a search.

If the police give you a ticket, you should sign it to avoid arrest. Then, if you feel the ticket is unfair, you can argue it later in traffic court. Likewise, if the police ask you to take a blood, urine, or breath test, you should comply. Refusing to do so can cause your license to be suspended.

If you are arrested, you should ask why, then ask for a lawyer immediately. You have the right to know the reason for your arrest, and you have the right to a lawyer’s counsel.

What You Should Do If You Get A DUI

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DUI Numbers Increasing

The numbers of DUI and DWI convictions over the past 10 years has skyrocketed, and that is because law enforcement agencies across the United States have literally been cracking down hard on drinking and driving, and the results have meant a dramatic increases in arrests.

Emotionally DUI arrests can be pretty bad, partly because you’ve been drinking and then were arrested, but also because getting this kind of charge has a lot of repercussions that go along with it. When it comes down to it, you should definitely understand that there are many aspects and outcomes of getting a DUI that will change your life, so you’ll need to be ready for these changes.

What You Need to Know

You are much more likely to get a DUI than you were in the year 2010, and that was just seven years ago! So let’s get right into some of the things that everyone who gets a DUI or DWI needs to know about!

The first thing you should know after getting arrested for DUI is that your insurance is about to increase, and that is not something to be too excited about, but of course it is something that should be expected. You become labeled as a high-risk driver and that makes you put under all these statutes of limitations and can create much higher prices for insurance. This is not always the case, though, and if you had a good driving record up to your DUI arrest you may be with an insurance company that only raises your rates a little bit.

Of course, the major notion that everyone has with DUI and DWI is with alcohol, but these charges are for literally anything, so you should definitely know that just avoiding alcohol consumption does not get you off any hooks with the law at all, and can even lead to more serious charges depending on what a urine test shows up with after your arrest at the police station. This is not the situation you want to get yourself in.

Also, a lot of people are scared to be a registered felon after getting a DUI, but if it is your first DUI then it is more than likely going to be a misdemeanor. But this is not always the case of course because many times a DUI recipient also hurt or even killed another person in a crash, and that leads to a felony no matter what.

Be sure to handle your arraignment and then get yourself an experienced lawyer for everything else. What’s important here is that when you are in your arraignment you are going to get in the situation in which you are presented in front of the court typically after a night in jail and then you are asked to plead guilty, not guilty or to ask for a plea bargain of some sorts or even a jury trial. A lot of times people think that lawyers should help out in this situation and they actually really can. If you have a lawyer to help you out with your plea bargain, especially if it’s your first criminal offense, then you have a really good opportunity at getting the charges reduced dramatically.

You are going to lose your license for a good amount of time, typically around a year, but maybe anywhere from 3 to 12 months depending on where you live. What you are going to want to do right away is make sure your arresting officer gives you a temporary license when he takes your regular license away. This temporary will have a date on it that corresponds with a DMV hearing that you’ll have to go to in order to get your license back. You can plead your case in many circumstances, but if you fail to plead your case you are looking at not having a license.

The best and fastest way to get your license back is through a treatment program. By doing this program you typically will be able to get your license back, but it does take some time.

The main thing you should know though is that it is going to follow you awhile, and that is just something that you can’t avoid in these situations, which is exactly why you need to know your rights and make all of the right decisions from the very beginning of the arrest to your new license and freedom back on the road!