Washington DUI Process
DUI Defense Lawyer to Protect Your License, Freedom & Finances
Washington’s drunk driving (DUI) laws are some of the toughest in the nation and even a single conviction can have lifelong consequences. Washington State already has tough DUI laws but Clark, Cowlitz, and Counties are well-known for their aggressive prosecution of DUI cases. When you have been arrested for a DUI, time is of the essence. It is important to speak with an experienced DUI attorney immediately to protect your rights and defenses.
People are most often pulled over for minor traffic infractions such as speeding, swerving, wide turns, broken equipment, or driving without headlights on at night. Traffic accidents often lead to drunk driving investigations and arrests, too. The Washington State Patrol and local police agencies, however, will also approach vehicles pulled over on the side of the road (called a welfare stop) or come to your home if someone called 911 about your driving. Washington State also has a “physical control” DUI charge, if you were in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
One of the first questions a law enforcement officer will ask is if you have been drinking alcohol. How you answer this question, along with any odor of alcohol, slurred speech, or swaying will give the officer grounds to start a DUI investigation and ask you to perform “field sobriety tests”. These tests are designed to be difficult for someone who has not had a drink to perform and are considered to be part of the officer’s investigation into your sobriety. These tests can include a side-of-the-road breath test that will lead to your arrest if any measurable amount of alcohol is detected (not just .08% or above).
After the DUI arrest:
When you are arrested for a DUI you will have two separate cases to fight. The first is the Department of Licensing (DOL) action to suspend your license and the second is the criminal charge in the local courthouse. These two cases are completely independent of each other and the outcome of one does not change the outcome of the other. For example, your license can be suspended by the DOL (or Oregon DMV) and still have your charges significantly reduced or dismissed in the criminal case.
If you are arrested for a DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs), you will be asked to take a breath, blood, or urine test after your arrest. Most people take a breath or blood test. Washington’s and Oregon’s “implied consent” law requires that you submit to these tests if asked to do so by law enforcement. An officer must have probable cause to believe that you have been driving under the influence before he or she may lawfully arrest you and request such tests. Refusing to submit to these tests can result in a warrant being issued to force a blood draw, and will lead to harsher penalties.
You have a failed a breath or blood test if your results show a .08% blood alcohol content (BAC) or above. If your BAC is over a .15%, you face harsher charges and penalties. If you were operating a commercial vehicle at the time of your arrest, you can lose your commercial license for one year (1st offense) or for life (2nd offense). You have failed a breath or blood test as a commercial driver if your results show a .04% or above. In certain cases the Prosecuting Attorney will file DUI charges against you for being in physical control of the vehicle while being under the influence of alcohol, or a lower BAC will lead to a different DUI-like charge.
Your DUI criminal case process:
Your case begins with a first appearance which is also known as an Arraignment. At the time of your arrest or release from jail or the scene, you were given a citation or release agreement with an order to appear in court. It is very important to find this document and confirm when and where your court appearance is. If you miss your court appearance, a warrant will be issued for your arrest and you will lose the opportunity to participate in the DUI Deferred Prosecution Program, if you are eligible. You can attend all hearings with your DUI attorney, who will do all of the speaking on your behalf, and meet with him after to answer all of the questions you may have.
- You are given a list of the charges you are facing. Many people are surprised to learn that the Prosecuting Attorney has added additional charges to their case. Some common additional charges to expect with a DUI are: Reckless Driving, Recklessly Endangering Another Person, Hit & Run, and Driving While Suspended. Enhancements to your DUI charges can also be added (chemical test refusal, high blood alcohol level, vehicle accident).
- You are expected to have an attorney, apply for a public defender if you cannot afford your own attorney, or make the decision to attempt to handle the case on your own. Although it is your right, it is never recommended to handle a serious case like DUI on your own. If you need time to hire an attorney, ask the judge for more time and you will typically be given a week or two, feel free to call our office for a consultation.
- At the Arraignment on a DUI case, your next court appearance will be scheduled. With a DUI case, timing is everything. An experienced attorney will be monitoring important statutory timelines in your case, so you do not unknowingly give up or lose important rights such as the DUI Deferred Prosecution Program.
- Your first court appearance may be the appropriate time to make important requests to the Judge. If you need to leave the State, have been given a no contact order you would like lifted, work in the beer / wine / liquor / marijuana industry or have some other special circumstance to discuss with the Judge, this may be the time. The Judge will also make certain orders about your DUI pre-release from custody while your case is ongoing, especially in DUI cases. Your attorney will know how to deal with these orders and any requests or needs that you may have directly to the Judge.
If you hire Sean Nicholson, he will be with you at all of your court appearances.
DUI Charges: A First Offense Washington DUI charge can carry maximum of 364 days in jail, fines of $5,000.00, 5 years of probation, driver license suspensions (imposed by the court in addition to the DOL suspension) and many other consequences. People facing a second or third DUI charge are looking at significantly harsher penalties.
Most people with a DUI charge will not be sentenced to the maximum jail time or fines, but the consequences you do face are serious and can be life-changing. Any prior DUII conviction in your lifetime will be used to aggregate and enhance the punishment the prosecutor seeks.
You may be eligible for Washington State’s DUI Deferred Prosecution Program. If you are not eligible for the DUI Diversion program, or you choose not to accept it, your other options:
- Attempting to get the case dismissed or evidence suppressed due to officer error, violation of the law or violation of your State and/or Federal Constitutional rights (whether this option exists depends on the unique facts of your case);
- Taking the case to trial; or
- Accepting a plea offer after negotiations with the prosecuting attorney. Plea offers contain the lowest possible punishment that the Prosecuting Attorney is willing to take in your case, and are the result of a lot of effort and argument by Sean Nicholson.
If you decide not to accept the terms of a DUI plea negotiation, the case will go to trial. You are entitled to a trial where your DUI lawyer will work to expose weaknesses in the State’s case. The government carries the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict you and there is no burden on you to present any evidence whatsoever. If there are witnesses who support your case, your attorney will call them to testify. You may be called to testify if your attorney thinks it is in the best interest of your defense, but you are not required to testify. You have an absolute right to remain silent and if you choose to testify, it should only be after careful consideration of the pros and cons. If the government is unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any of the necessary elements of the crime then a finding of guilt cannot be made. It is important to remember that there is always a risk of conviction at trial.
Fighting the Department of Licensing (DOL) suspension:
If you do not request a DOL (implied consent) hearing within 7 days of your arrest, your license will be suspended 30 days after the arrest. You should have received paperwork from the arresting officer when you were arrested or released that includes these instructions and a temporary license. The officer likely took your license from you when you were arrested.
If you possess an out-of-state driver license, the arresting officer should not confiscate your license. Your State’s DMV or DOL can and often does take action against your license once they are notified of your DUI arrest in Washington State.
In Washington, “implied consent” DUI hearings are held to determine whether or not your license should be suspended under the law. An administrative law judge will listen to testimony and take evidence, and will determine whether all the legal requirements have been met in order to suspend your license. Our attorneys challenge each and every possible element using the facts of your arrest and established case law to argue that the suspension should be ruled invalid.
Your defense attorney can challenge the following issues:
- Whether you were legally under arrest when the officer requested the chemical test
- Whether the police had reasonable grounds to believe that you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Whether you refused the test or tested above the legal limit
- Whether you were properly advised of your rights by the arresting officer
- Whether you were given proper written notice of the pending suspension
- Whether the officer who administered the test was properly trained and certified to conduct the test
- Whether the methods, procedures and equipment used complied with Washington State Law.