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Washington DUI Laws - Common Questions

Answers from a Snohomish County DUI Defense Attorney

  1. Have there been any changes to Washington DUI laws?
  2. What are the penalties for DUI?
  3. What are the laws for a first-time DUI?
  4. What do I need to know about a first-time DUI?
  5. What are the penalties for two or more DUIs?
  6. How will a DUI affect my commercial driver's license (CDL)?
  7. What should I do if I'm arrested for a DUI while out of state?
  8. How much will a DUI cost me?
  9. Can I get a DUI for taking OTC medications?
  10. What is a physical control charge?
  11. What are common myths and misconceptions about DUI laws?

1. Have there been any changes to Washington DUI laws?

The State of Washington has changed or adjusted many of the laws regarding DUI, and these laws will continue to evolve. For example, did you know that Washington State no longer offers occupational driver's licenses for people convicted of DUI? In the past, first-time DUI offenders were able to have their employers' sign forms that would allow them to have a provisional driver's license to get to and from work, but the offender could not drive anywhere else or during non-work hours. Unfortunately, these occupational driver's licenses have been eliminated.

The good news is that the law now allows eligible drivers to use an ignition lock device while keeping their driver's license full-time and with no restrictions. The ignition lock device requires the driver to provide a DUI breath test before starting their vehicles. They also include cameras so that no one can start the car but the authorized driver. These new laws will allow for many drivers to retain their driver's licenses despite a DUI conviction.

Because driving under the influence facts continue to change, an experienced and knowledgeable law firm is an invaluable resource for assisting you with any DUI questions or issues you may face.

2. What are the penalties for DUI?

According to Washington State law, you are considered to be driving under the influence if you have a blood alcohol content, or BAC, of more than .08%.

If you are found guilty of a DUI in Washington State, some of the consequences you might face include:

  • Jail time – Anywhere from 1 day to 365 days may be imposed, with a mandatory minimum of 24 consecutive hours or 48 consecutive hours if your BAC was .15% or higher, or if you refuse to take the breath test.
  • Electronic home monitoring – Monitoring can be imposed for a minimum of 15 days instead of jail time if you are a first time offender. If your BAC was .15% or higher, home monitoring can be imposed for a minimum of 30 days.
  • Fine – Fines from $350 to $5,000 may be imposed. The fine minimum is $1,078 for individuals with a BAC of .15% or higher, or if you refuse to take the breath test.
  • Driver's license suspension – 90 days suspension or 1 year suspension may be imposed if your BAC is .15% or higher or 2 years if you refuse to take a breath test.
  • Ignition interlock device – This device is required if you are convicted of a DUI.
  • Alcohol / drug education or treatment – Education or treatment is ordered at the discretion of the judge. This typically involves completing an alcohol evaluation, as well as participating in follow-up treatment for one eight-hour class for up to two years.

3. What are the laws for a first-time DUI?

A driver is considered legally impaired if his or her BAC is more than .08%. For individuals who are under the age of 21, a BAC of .02% or over is considered legally drunk; a BAC of .04% is legally drunk for a commercial driver. If you are a first time offender, or if you have not had any administrative actions taken against you in the last seven years, your consequences generally are not as severe as those a repeat offender might face.

Under Washington State laws regarding DUI, some of the consequences a first time offender might face include:

  • Mandatory jail time of at least 24 hours
  • Mandatory loss of your driver's license for at least 90 days
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device
  • Mandatory alcohol evaluation and follow-up treatment

Even if criminal charges are not filed, DUI regulations dictate that your driver's license can be automatically suspended if your BAC was more than .08%, or if you refused to submit to a breath test. If criminal charges are filed against you and you are convicted, you may also lose your driver's license.

4. What do I need to know about a first-time DUI?

First, you can be arrested and convicted for driving under the influence of both alcohol and drugs, which includes prescription medications. The most important factor the law will consider is whether your ability to drive has been impaired enough that you are a threat to the general public's safety.

Second, the deferred prosecution program allows individuals to petition the court for deferral of their case while they seek treatment for alcoholism, drug addiction or mental illness. This means no jail time, fines, loss of driver's license, or special insurance requirement.

Finally, first time DUI laws require mandatory sentencing. Even if you drove under the influence by mistake, or have never had a prior DUI, you need to be able to defend yourself in court to make sure you take advantage of all your rights.

5. What are the penalties for two or more DUIs?

For two or more DUI convictions, if your blood alcohol content tested at less than 0.15%, you will receive at least 30 days or at most 1 year in jail. If your blood alcohol content was above 0.15%, you will find yourself behind bars for a minimum of 45 days or up to 1 year. On a second or subsequent offense, jail time is very hard to avoid. When you are released from jail, electronic home monitoring may also be required for a period of at least 60 days. This ankle-bracelet type monitoring device will keep track of where you are at all times. The monitoring device cannot be removed, or additional penalties will be imposed.

In addition to jail time and 24-hour-a-day monitoring, fines will likely be imposed, ranging from $1,000 up to $8,000. In addition, and your driver's license may be suspended for up to 2 years. With these penalties, you can see you will have lost your freedom and incurred some hefty blows to your pocketbook!

Further, as this is your second conviction, you may also be facing alcohol or drug assessment and up to five years' probation. This means, for up to five years from your release from jail, you must be on good behavior and you may not encounter any difficulties with law enforcement. Violating your probation can result in additional fines and fees, as well as additional jail time.

6. How will a DUI affect my commercial driver's license (CDL)?

If you have been arrested on a DUI charge and you hold a CDL, it's best to contact a Washington State DUI attorney as soon as possible to learn how your driver's license will be affected in your state.

In most states, if you are arrested for a DUI, law enforcement will confiscate your CDL. Even if it isn't confiscated immediately, it is very likely that it will be taken at some point in the process. This means that you cannot drive a commercial vehicle at all. In many states, you will lose both your personal and commercial driver's licenses. In most states, it does not matter if you were driving a personal vehicle or a commercial vehicle at the time of your arrest, the consequences are usually about the same as far as your CDL is concerned.

Once your CDL has been confiscated, you won't be able to get a temporary one to use while you are fighting the case in court. Unfortunately, there are federal regulations that govern this and most states are not going to issue a temporary permit, even if you need it to work.

If you are driving a commercial vehicle, the legal blood alcohol limit in most states is only .04%. This means that a BAC of more than .04% is grounds for an arrest on a DUI charge. This is half the legal limit of .08% when driving a non-commercial vehicle. For most states, a refusal to submit to alcohol level tests is grounds for an automatic loss of your commercial driver's license for at least a year.

If you are convicted of a DUI for the first time, you could lose your CDL for at least a year, especially if you are convicted of a DUI that occurred while driving a commercial vehicle. The good news is that it is possible to get it reinstated at some point, which is great if you depend on the CDL for your livelihood. However, if you are convicted of a second DUI, you will lose your commercial driver's license altogether, even if you were driving a non-commercial vehicle at the time of arrest. This lifetime ban on a second conviction is generally the rule in most states because it is based on federal guidelines.

7. What should I do if I'm arrested for a DUI while out of state?

If you've been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in a state other than your own, you will probably have to go through the same process as residents of that state.

If you've been arrested for an out of state DUI, here are some steps you will most likely have to take:

  • Call a lawyer - The very first thing you should do if you are arrested for a DUI is to call an attorney in the local area. A local law firm can guide you through the ins and outs of that state's legal process. Tell the officer that you would like to speak with legal counsel so that you can get advice as soon as possible. If you want to learn more about the specific process in a state, try checking online for DUI facts.
  • Driver's license issues - Contact the licensing agency or department both in the state where you were arrested and in your home state. You should find out what actions are being taken against you and what steps you need to take to fight these actions. Make sure that you don't forget to contact your home state to find out about any additional steps you might need to take to keep your driver's license at home. Your attorney should also be able to answer some of these questions for you.
  • Arraignment - This generally happens very soon after an arrest. Time frames can vary, but expect to appear in court for the first time as soon as the next business day following your arrest. This is where you enter your plea and your appearance is mandatory. Most courts will advise you of your rights at this time.
  • Hearings and court dates - You will have to appear in person for these, even if you live out of state. This could mean multiple trips back and forth between your home state and the state in which you were arrested. A good attorney can make this easier on you by working with your schedule, especially if you have to fly in from far away.
  • Treatment - In many states, receiving alcohol treatment or taking classes is part of the process. Enrolling into treatment as soon as you possibly can is a very good thing. Treatment may even be mandatory, so the sooner you begin, the better. If you are from out of state, you may be able to get this treatment in your home state, but check with your lawyer to make sure of this first.
  • Sentencing - Depending on your history, you could get jail time, community service, fines, in-home detention, or mandatory alcohol classes or treatment.

8. How much will a DUI cost me?

If you were arrested for a DUI, it can have a devastating effect on your pocketbook in more ways than you may realize. In fact, many people fail to realize the financial costs involved with a DUI conviction, as most concern themselves primarily with the loss of driving privileges or other freedoms. The reality is that there are a number of potential financial burdens associated with being convicted of a DUI, which is exactly why it is so important to hire our Washington State DUI attorneys who will work hard to win your case.

Some of the costs you may face if convicted of a DUI include:

  • Court fees and other legal fees associated with the conviction
  • Increased insurance rates
  • Payment for required rehabilitation classes
  • Loss of income, which may occur when you are unable to drive to your job, have to take time off to serve jail time, attend alcohol classes, or participate in community service
  • An ignition interlock device installed in your car

9. Can I get a DUI for taking OTC medications?

When you feel a case of the sniffles coming on, you pick up your favorite over-the-counter cold remedy and off you go. You would never think that this act may lead to a traffic stop and a potential DUI charge. If you fail a field sobriety test, have traces of cold medicine in your system, or admit to have taken cold medicine, you could face a DUI.

Obviously you understand that taking too much of any medicine can impair your judgment and could present potential dangers. This is why you always follow the directions on the label and only take medicines you have used before and with which are comfortable. However, if you are pulled over for a minor traffic violation, the effects of your medication could cause an officer to ask you to take a field sobriety test. One slip up or refusing to take the test could lead to a charge of DUI.

At the Law Office of Mark W. Garka, PLLC, we are available to defend your rights. Before you do anything, you should call our firm to retain the representation of our skilled Washington State DUI attorney.

10. What is a physical control charge?

You may have been told by your friends, a bartender, or even a law enforcement officer to go to your car and “sleep it off.” This sounds like a good idea, but it can get you in just as much trouble as a DUI if you are arrested for a physical control charge. The best thing to do is call a cab or have someone call for you.

The term "physical control" is only defined by example. There is no legal definition for the term by statute. The most common example of actual physical control is a driver sitting in the driver's seat of a parked car with the keys in the ignition. This happens a lot when a driver decides to wait in the car until they can become sober. Unfortunately, many drivers arrested for physical control believe they were doing the right thing by waiting in their parked car.

  • The bad news - A physical control (PC) charge is the same as a DUI charge. This means that if you are convicted of physical control, the court must impose mandatory jail time, fines, an ignition interlock device, and driver's license suspension; just like a DUI charge. As a matter of fact, they are both more or less, the same charge. With this said, a DUI charge and a physical control charge require the government to prove different elements of the crime. In most states involving a DUI case, the government must prove you drove a vehicle. However, to prove the crime of physical control, the government must prove that you were in “actual physical control” of a vehicle.
  • The Good News - There is defense for being in physical control of a motor vehicle which is called “safely off the roadway.” If you have parked your car safely off the roadway, you can assert this defense and ask a jury or judge to find you not guilty of physical control. A defendant has the burden of proving the safely off the roadway defense. It is a question for the jury or judge to decide what is safe and they may consider the location of the vehicle, the extent of the drivers control over the vehicle, and any other relevant evidence. Be aware that some jurisdictions will argue that "roadway" is defined as "curb to curb" and therefore even a vehicle legally parked on the side of the road is not "safely off the roadway" for purposes of the affirmative defense.

11. What are common myths and misconceptions about DUI laws?

DUI laws are constantly changing and refining as the government tries to keep up with the very best research in public safety. However, these constant changes, when coupled with a healthy dose of urban legends, mean that people have serious misconceptions about DUI stops and arrests. To stay safe and to be responsible, you need to make sure you know some real driving under the influence facts. Here are some common myths about DUI stops:

  • If I refuse a blood alcohol test , they can't charge me because they will have no evidence - WRONG. The law has evolved, and there are serious sanctions for refusing a test. The state will try to take your driver's license away. However, this doesn't mean you should automatically submit to tests either. Immediately contacting a lawyer for advice before you submit to any tests is recommended.
  • You can beat a DUI breath test by “insert zany advice here.” - WRONG. DUI breathalyzers have come a long way, and they are designed so that they aren't easily “tricked” by all of the urban myths about which you hear. Even the show MythBusters tried, and found that the test couldn't be beat. If you get stopped and are scrambling to shove in the breath mints or suck on a penny, chances are you will only antagonize the officer which never helps matters.
  • My car wasn't moving, therefore I can't be charged with DUI - WRONG. We have a concept of physical control in Washington State, and it means that you can be charged if the car is stopped but the keys are still in the ignition, or even if the keys are on the floor of the vehicle. It depends on whether the court determines that you were still in physical control of the vehicle while drunk, not just driving.

Get Strong Defense for DUI Charges in Washington

Because the consequences for DUI are severe, you want to make sure you secure the representation of an experienced Washington State DUI lawyer as soon as possible if you or someone you love had been charged. The Law Office of Mark W. Garka, PLLC handles the most complicated DUI cases around, including DUI with children in car. We know the complexities of state laws inside and out, and when your back is against the wall, you want to know that you have a seasoned attorney on your side, fighting for both your driver's license and your freedom.

Contact Us Today!

Make sure your rights are protected and that you get treated fairly by hiring a qualified attorney with experience handling DUI cases in Washington State. I help DUI defendants protect their rights and ensure fair treatment. The legal system is tricky, but with my guidance, you will understand the full implications of your situation and identify the steps you will need to take next.

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(425) 422-5818