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Driving Under the Influence Charges in Washington State
Driving Under the Influence is the most serious charge filed in the District and Municipal Court system. Penalties for a person convicted of Driving Under the Influence are very harsh, but a competent, experienced lawyer can minimize the impact significantly, in even the most difficult cases. A person can be charge with Driving Under the Influence based on two alternative grounds; that he or she drove
- With a .08 BAC within two hours of driving
- While “under the influence” of alcohol and/or drugs.
These are alternative means of committing the offense, and even persons with BAC levels below .08 are often charged with DUI. As long as a driver appears under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, he may be prosecuted for DUI regardless of the BAC level.
DUI is not the only criminal charge available to prosecutors when it comes to cases involving drinking and automobiles. If a person is sitting in the driver's seat of a parked vehicle while “under the influence”., or with a BAC level of .08 or above, he or she may be charged with the crime of Being in Actual Physical Control of a Vehicle While Under the Influence. Or, whenever a person has had anything to drink and drives in what the officer considers a “negligent” manner, the prosecution can file a charge of Negligent Driving in the First Degree. Negligent Driving is defined as “driving in a manner likely to endanger persons or property” a definition covering a broad range of driving violations. If the officer is also able to point to any symptoms of consumption of alcohol (not impairment, merely consumption), the prosecutor will charge this criminal offense.
Concerning minors, Washington has a “zero tolerance” policy for drivers under 21. Minors may be charged with the crime of Driver Under 21 Consuming Alcohol whenever the BAC is between .02 and .08 within two hours of driving.
The Department of Licensing Administrative License Suspension Process
Any Washington licensed driver who is arrested for DUI and has a breath test result above .079, or who refuses to take the breath or blood test, will have his driver’s license punched by the arresting officer and will be given a DOL hearing request form. The person will then be faced with two legal problems, the criminal charge, and civil “administrative license suspensions imposed by the Department of Licensing (even if criminal charges are never filed). From the date of arrest, you have thirty days to mail the hearing request form (along with a $200 fee) to the DOL. Failure to do so will result in an automatic driver’s license suspension and loss of the opportunity to contest it.
Even though the driver’s license has been punched, it is still valid for at least sixty days from the date of arrest. The administrative suspension process is complicated and you should discuss it thoroughly with your lawyer to protect your license from suspension.
If a hearing is timely and properly requested, the DOL must hold the hearing no later than 60 days after the date of arrest (it may, however, be continued at the driver’s request). At the hearing, the Department of Licensing will be represented by a Hearing Officer, who is employed by the Department. In most cases, the hearing is conducted completely over the telephone. Four issues must be determined at the hearing:
- Whether the person was placed under lawful arrest
- Whether the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to believe the person was DUI, In Physical Control, or a Minor Operating a Motor Vehicle After Alcohol Consumption
- Whether the person was properly advised of his/her Implied Consent Warnings
- Whether both breath test results were .080 or above on a test performed in accordance with methods approved by the Washington State Toxicologist, or the person refused the breath or blood test.
If a hearing officer finds that all of the above elements have been proven by a preponderance of the evidence, first-time offenders driver face a mandatory license suspension of 90 days for a BAC above .08 (or .02 for those under 21), or revocation for one year if the test was refused. Second time offenders (within seven years) suffer a mandatory revocation of one and two years, respectively.
Keep in mind that even if the person prevails at the DOL hearing, the driver’s license may still be suspended or revoked pursuant to the separate criminal prosecution.
High Risk (SR22) Insurance
Anyone who loses his or her license due to a DUI arrest or conviction is required to maintain “high risk” (SR 22) Insurance for a period of three years beginning on the date the person is eligible for reinstatement. This insurance is more expensive than standard insurance, and generally speaking can only be avoided if the person enters deferred prosecution or has favorable results in both the civil Department of Licensing administrative license suspension process and the criminal prosecution. To learn more about mandatory SR22 high risk insurance, speak with your attorney.