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Your Seattle DUI Case: The Basics

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

Your best friend moved to Seattle last month and just keeps raving about it. She says it's more than just rain, Starbucks, and an oddly shaped Space Needle. It's about a thriving music scene, culinary delights, and beer. Yes, these hipsters know how to craft a good brew. So, you use your Southwest frequent flyer miles and head out to visit. As soon as you arrive, she has everything planned out -- a three-hour brewery tour, then provisions at Pike's Market, followed by a night out in Capitol Hill where you have one too many whiskey shots. Pizza tastes so good after midnight, you've always said.

You get into her Prius and head back to her apartment, but you end up being the "designated driver." Bad move. It's no surprise when Seattle PD lights you up. Major problem. You can't do any of the field sobriety tests without falling over. What's going to happen next? Here's some general information on a Seattle DUI case.

Bail

After you were arrested, the nice police officer likely took you to jail. Whether this is your first DUI or your third, we are sure you'd rather not spend an extended time locked up. If you committed a felony, you'll likely be there until your arraignment. If not, you may have been released with a promise to appear at one of Seattle's courts at a later time.

During the arraignment a judge will inform you of the charges and set bail. She may impose additional conditions, such as alcohol testing. You'll enter a plea of not guilty, guilty, or no contest. You can hire a lawyer, represent yourself, or ask for a public defender.

What About My Driver's License?

Most people don't realize that when they're arrested for a DUI in the Emerald City they'll have to deal with two historically unpopular government agencies: the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) and the criminal court system

Why? Because the DOL will handle your license suspension pursuant to Washington's implied consent laws and the courts will deal with your criminal case.

DUI Arrest Driver's License Suspension

There are two separate license suspensions or revocations for a DUI. There's the one when you're arrested and a different one if you're convicted. Let's explore this more.

If you're arrested, the DOL will automatically suspend your license anywhere from 90 days to two years. This will happen 60 days from the date you were arrested, unless you request a hearing. Act quickly. You'll need to request that hearing within 7 days of your arrest. Your license will still be valid while you wait for your hearing.

What If I Win My Hearing?

You aren't out of the woods. If the court still convicts you of DUI, your driver license will be suspended as a result of the court conviction. A hearing decision in your favor applies only to the suspension resulting from the arrest.

Driver's License Suspension If I Am Convicted

If you're convicted of a DUI in Washington, your driver license will be suspended for 90 days to 4 years, depending on prior offenses and the severity of the incident. The suspension will begin 45 days after your conviction.

DUI Charges

In Washington, under RCW 46.61.502 a driver may be charged with being impaired by drugs or alcohol if they:

  • Had a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .08 or higher;
  • Had a blood THC level of 5.0 per millimeter or higher;
  • Was under the influence or affected by an intoxicating liquor or drug;
  • Was under the influence of a combination of drugs and alcohol.

The BAC limit is lower for commercial drivers, .04 or higher, and .02 or higher for minors under 21 .

It's important to know that "drugs" doesn't refer only to illegal narcotics. Medications that were prescribed or sold over-the-counter (depression medications, pain killers, or sleep agents) can also create an intoxicating effect. Legally possessing the medication isn't a defense.

What if I'm Not Actually Driving, But Just Sitting in My Car With Keys in the Ignition?

Washington isn't going to let you off that easy. Let's say you safely made it home, but then passed out in the front seat of your car. (Trust us, it happens). If the officer happens upon you, you can be in violation of the law. You're probably thinking, "But, the officer didn't see me driving. It doesn't count!" Oh, but it does.

Under RCW 46.61.504, if you're in "physical control" of the car and intoxicated, you can be charged. Actual physical control refers to situations where the car isn't in motion, but capable of movement -- such as when the keys are in the ignition and the car is parked. Basically, the same rules apply -- if you have a BAC of .08 or higher, a THC level of 5.00 or higher, or are under the influence of a alcohol and/or drugs, you'll be in violation of the law.

Criminal Penalties

Penalties range from jail time to probation and a fine depending on the severity of the DUI and your prior criminal history. If you've been charged with a DUI, it will most likely be classified as a "gross misdemeanor" which means the maximum punishment is 364 days in jail and a $5,000.00 fine. But if you caused serious bodily injury or death to another person or if you've previously been convicted of vehicular assault or homicide, or if you have four priors within the past 10 years, it will be charged as a Class C Felony DUI -- that means possible prison time.

Under Age 21 DUI

Washington has zero tolerance for under 21 drinking and driving shenanigans. If you have any alcohol in your system (or marijuana) and decide to drive, you're violating the law. Specifically, RCW 46.61.503. Go ahead. Read it. Know it. Just don't violate it. Bottom line: if you're under 21 and have been drinking, don't even think of getting behind the wheel. It's just not worth it.

Remember, it's best to never drink or use drugs and drive. Select a designated driver ahead of time who will stay sober. You can also ask someone else to give you a ride, hail a yellow taxi, or use public transportation.

Get Legal Help With Your Seattle DUI Case

We all make mistakes sometimes, but impaired driving is a potentially fatal error and Washington State punishes drunk drivers severely. Still, it's always in your best interests to have a skilled attorney at your side when defending against DUI charges. Get a head start on your defense and contact an experienced Washington DUI attorney today.

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