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DUI in Washington State

Dealing with a DUI charge can be an intimidating experience. Although stressful and overwhelming at times, navigating the process is a fairly straightforward matter when armed with current knowledge of the law and the procedures followed by the court system. Familiarization with state law and competent legal counsel that can advise you of what to expect during the court process will contribute considerably toward getting you on the right track and achieving the best possible outcome.

Licensed drivers are required by law to maintain full control of their faculties when operating a motor vehicle or vessel. Washington state law forbids the operation or control of any motor vehicle or vessel by a person who is under the influence of any substance, alcohol or drug, legal or illegal, that so impairs mental or physical capability that the individual is unable to operate or control that vehicle in the same manner that a cautious person would who is not impaired, or who is operating at full capacity.

  • RCW 46.61.502 states that a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher within two hours after driving constitutes impaired driving and is in violation. This statute refers to adult drivers 21 years or older and addresses drug impairment as well.
  • RCW46.61.504 also prohibits individuals, 21 or older, with blood levels at 0.08 and higher from having physical control of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two.
  • Commercial drivers are prohibited from operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04 or more by RCW 46.25.120.
  • RCW 46.61.503 finds drivers under the age of 21 in violation if blood alcohol levels reach or exceed 0.02 within two hours after being in physical control of, or operating, a motor vehicle.

Impaired driving of any kind is against the law. Again, the nature of the impairment, whether alcohol or drugs, legal or illegal, is immaterial. The determining factor is impairment and whether or not the operator is mentally and physically able to control the vehicle in a manner comparable to that of a prudent person in full possession of his faculties.

The burden of proof in all DUI cases lies with the arresting authority and the State of Washington. Evidence gathered at the time of arrest such as field testing, observations made by the arresting officer and any information or statements made by the defendant, are all collected in an effort to prove the subject's inability to safely, properly or legally control a vehicle. The legal process begins at arrest and moves through its various stages to acquittal or conviction.

The process actually involves two distinct proceedings. A civil proceeding is handled through the Department of Licensing and involves the immediate status of driving privileges. A criminal proceeding advances through the criminal justice system and deals with the DUI case and its eventual conviction or acquittal in the criminal realm.

Washington State's implied consent law enables law enforcement to impose field sobriety testing on any driver that exhibits suspicious driving as a condition driving privileges. As an administrative agency, the Department of Licensing grants a state driver's license based on the operator's willingness to provide proof of acceptable blood alcohol content (BAC) levels at a traffic stop. Therefore, if a suspected driver refuses a lawfully requested field sobriety test, or the results of their test reveals a BAC of 0.08 or above, the Department of Licensing will automatically revoke driving privileges.

If no appeal is filed within 20 days of the defendant's arrest, the Department of Licensing revocation will stand. If an appeal is filed, a hearing will be scheduled to review the facts of the case and determine whether suspension or revocation is justified. This finding will be made based on prior offenses and the facts of the current case. In some jurisdictions, notification of this hearing is given at the time of arrest, but not always. Whether notification is provided or not, it is the responsibility of the defendant to make timely appeals and responses in an attempt to maintain his driving privileges. Also, it should be noted that even if a defendant is successful in the DOL administrative hearing and retains his driving privileges, they could still be revoked as a result of a negative ruling in the criminal matter. Because of this, there are actually two different ways a driver can lose their license in Washington if they are charged with DUI.

The criminal case will proceed independent of the DOL civil action. Depending on the jurisdiction where your DUI arrest took place, you will be notified of your arraignment date by the arresting officer or you will receive notification by mail as soon as formal DUI charges are filed by the prosecutor. At arraignment, a guilty or not-guilty plea will be entered, conditions of release will be established, and a pre-trial date will be set.

This interim period before pre-trial will be used by both sides to interview witnesses and gather evidence and supporting material pertinent to the case. It is at this time that your counsel will evaluate the procedure followed at your arrest to ascertain whether or not certain evidence can be invalidated or deemed inadmissible. Your recollection of the facts of the arrest itself may provide your attorney with additional opportunities for the suppression of evidence that may be harmful to your case. It is possible for a DUI prosecution to be dropped at any time during the process due to a lack of admissible evidence to support a conviction. Negotiations between your attorney and the prosecution will begin once both sides have collected all available evidence and assessed all the legal issues that pertain to the case.

The pretrial hearing and any subsequent hearings will precede the trial, if a resolution is not reached beforehand. It is imperative for a favorable outcome in all subsequent proceedings that a competent and zealous legal defense is presented to successfully navigate the judicial process and secure the most favorable outcome. The most effective course usually involves the exclusion of damaging evidence by defense counsel due to procedural failures committed by arresting personnel. An effective, experienced DUI defense attorney will be intimately acquainted with every available defense tactic and avail himself of every opportunity to successfully protect the rights of the client and negotiate the best possible outcome for the client. If you have been charged with a DUI in Washington, please contact our office for assistance.

WMSB Law Offices

902 Esther Street,
Vancouver, WA.
Telephone: (360) 690-0064
Fax: (360) 690-0068

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