We focus a large portion of our practice on staying up to date with cutting edge DUI defense theories and laws so we can provide our clients with the highest quality legal defenses.
Overview of DUI Legislation: In 1999 Washington adopted the threshold of .08 blood alcohol level. RCW 46.61.502 . The BAC level is generally measured by a breath test (in some cases, a blood test is used). Many people are surprised to learn that a person can still be arrested if they blow under a .08. Even if a person is under the legal limit, an officer may arrest a person if they have probable cause to believe that they were affected by intoxicants, regardless of their blood alcohol content. For a person under the age of 21 years old, the BAC level is set at .02.
In 2013, new tougher DUI laws went into effect making Washington DUI laws among the toughest in the nation. Some of the legislative changes include:
It is important to realize that if you are arrested for DUI, you have two cases to defend, one against the Department of Licensing (DOL), who wants to suspend your license for either blowing over .08 or refusing to blow, AND you have the criminal case where you are looking at a criminal conviction, jail time, fines, probation, alcohol evaluations, additional license consequences, and/or mandatory drug or alcohol treatment.
Court Process: In Whatcom County District Court, you will likely have an initial appearance and arraignment before you are released from jail. At that time the judge will go over your rights at arraignment, review the case for probable cause, order conditions of release pending trial, address bail, assign a judge to the case, and set an omnibus hearing and jury trial date within 90 days. If your case is prosecuted by Bellingham Municipal Court, the judge will set a pre-trial hearing which is similar to the omnibus, and will not set a trial date.
As to conditions of release, the court will take into consideration your history, the nature of the offense, and other factors and could order any of the following:
The omnibus hearing is one that you will need to attend with your defense counsel. This is the court’s opportunity to check in with the prosecution and defense counsel regarding the status of the case. Before this date, we gather all the records we can to recreate the timeline of events. We also meet with clients to go over the police officers reports in detail and review for errors made by the officer in the process. Often small details can make a big difference in the case. We use this information to evaluate if there are legal motions that can be brought to suppress evidence, factors that may have affected the BAC level, and this begins negotiations with the prosecutor’s office. By the first court hearing if the case is not ready for trial or resolution because there is still investigation being conducted, negotiations to be had, or more time needed to prepare for the trial, then either side may request a continuance of the trial date.
License Suspension: If your BAC level is above .08 or you have refused to provide a breath sample, the officer submits a DUI packet to the Department of Licensing. This launches an administrative process to suspend your license. This administrative process is independent from the criminal proceedings, and you could still face a license suspension even if you were not prosecuted in court.
The length of this potential suspension will depend on whether you have any prior arrests for DUI and whether you blew over the legal limit or refused to provide a breath sample at the station. A person with no priors who blows over a .08 is subject to a 90 day license suspension. A person who refuses the BAC test, with no priors, is subject to a 1 year license suspension. In order to challenge the administrative license suspension it is important to act fast and secure legal counsel that can assist you in this process.
Before this suspension takes effect you are entitled to request a hearing to challenge the suspension. You are only given seven days to submit your request for a hearing, along with either a $375 fee or affidavit of indigence, to the DOL. You can request a hearing online or by mail. Submitting the hearing request and fee will trigger DOL to send notice of your hearing date, along with the DOL packet submitted by law enforcement.
Overall less than 1 in 4 people are successful in challenging their license suspension through the DOL. You greatly increase your odds if you have a skilled attorney who can identify the legal issues with the best shot of prevailing in each situation.
Separate from this administrative suspension, there are also driver’s license penalties following certain convictions. If you are convicted of certain driving offenses, your conviction data is forwarded by the court to the DOL and depending on the conviction and your history, you could face more costly consequences as to your driver’s license (See the penalties following each conviction and the requirements to reinstate your license here).
Alcohol Evaluations: We often recommend our clients to get an alcohol evaluation done early on in the case. Getting this done early generally saves clients a good chunk of money later. Depending on the case, it can result in less probation fees. The evaluation can be done by any certified agency. We work with both the client and the evaluator to make this process go as smoothly as possible.
Potential Consequences of the Criminal Prosecution: Considering the consequences and possible outcomes from aggressive representation, it is very important to retain counsel when dealing with any serious driving offense, especially a DUI. The financial cost alone of a first DUI is staggering when considering the probation fee of $100.00 per month for active probation for what can be up to five years, Alcohol Evaluation in excess of $250.00 and compliance with the recommended treatment plan which can be up to $3,000.00, as well as thousands of dollars in high risk insurance (SR22) costs, roughly in excess of $1,000.00 in fines and costs to the court and the cost of not driving for 90 – 180 days during the suspension period or driving with an interlock device, can add to the expense as well. Second and subsequent DUI’s raise the penalty exponentially. We are cautious of each prospective cost that a client may face and work to minimize these to the greatest extent possible.
Often, people charged with their first DUI are so scared and embarrassed by the experience that they want to get it behind them and see pleading guilty immediately as the best alternative. There are a lot of alternatives to an immediate plea of guilty that should be explored with counsel. Plea bargaining your case is always available, and even modest or small concessions can make a huge difference in the future in such things as insurance and license suspensions. Often there are legal issues that you are not aware of that may significantly affect the outcome of your case. We put a lot of time into reviewing the evidence and gathering records that may call into question the validity of an officer’s report, whether it be video surveillance, documents from other cases that call into question the officers timeline of events, or common mistakes or failures in the process made by particular officers. We are also experts at evaluating whether your breath test was valid, considering the significant issues surrounding the machine Washington uses to conduct breath testing. Pleading guilty at the first instance is rarely a good idea and the “deals” the prosecutor offers will still be available later on in almost every case.
When contacting DUI lawyers make sure you have the following information handy:
From that information, our office can better serve you in the first moments of the call.