DUI Defense From All The Angles
Some people think the flashing red lights and a breathalyzer reading of .08 is game over. That is simply not the case. Washington State has strict DUI laws with harsh penalties, but law enforcement must follow specific protocols and their evidence is not as scientific or ironclad as people think.
If you were arrested in the Tacoma area for driving under the influence, The Law Offices of Smith & White, PLLC, can help. Our criminal defense lawyers have handled thousands of drunk driving cases in over 40 years of combined experience. We will look at every facet of your traffic stop and subsequent arrest to find where the police erred or violated your rights or where the prosecution cannot meet the burden of proof. Our thorough and relentless approach has yielded dismissals, acquittals and other favorable outcomes in DUI defense.
Skilled Representation For Every DUI Scenario
Whether this is your first offense or you have a prior DUI on your record, our attorneys are well-equipped to defend you. We have experience with the full spectrum of DUI charges:
- First-time DUI
- Repeat offenses
- Felony DUI and aggravating factors
- Underage DUI
- Breath test refusal (implied consent)
- Physical control DUI (parked car)
- DUI accidents causing injury or death
- Driving under the influence of drugs
Penalties And Collateral Consequences Of DUI
The consequences of a drunk driving conviction are both swift and long-lasting. It can affect your freedom, finances, employment and driving privileges.
First offense – Minimum one day in jail up to 364 days, fines and court costs, alcohol evaluation/treatment, and 90-day license suspension. If your blood alcohol content is .15 or higher, mandatory ignition interlock for one year.
Second offense (within 7 years) – Minimum 30 days jail to one year plus 60 days home confinement, fines, two-year license revocation, mandatory ignition interlock for two years, alcohol/drug education treatment and probation for five years.
Third offense – Minimum 90 days jail to one year plus 120 days home monitoring, fines, three-year revocation, ignition interlock, mandatory treatment and five years of probation.
Four or more offenses (in 10 years) – Class C felony punishable by one to five years in prison, permanent license revocation and mandatory ignition interlock for four years.
The typical DUI is a misdemeanor, but rises to a felony if you have three or more prior DUIs or aggravating factors such as a child in the car or causing an accident. You will probably be required to purchase (very expensive) SR-22 car insurance after a DUI conviction. A DUI cannot be expunged or vacated; it stays on your record forever. For all these reasons, you need to immediately seek an experienced DUI defense attorney.
Underage DUI (Zero Tolerance)
Drivers under the legal drinking age of 21 are subject to Washington’s Zero Tolerance law. Where the legal limit for adults is a BAC of .08, underage drivers are subject to a lesser threshold of .02 (basically any alcohol in your bloodstream). The penalty is a 90-day license suspension and up to 90 days in jail.
A minor DUI is only a misdemeanor (rather than a gross misdemeanor) and does not count as a prior DUI if that young person is arrested for drunk driving over the age of 21.
Driving Under The Influence Of Drugs
Although marijuana has been decriminalized in Washington State, it is still illegal to drive while impaired by pot or any other drug. When a person is pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, if alcohol is ruled out the officer will summon a drug recognition expert (DRE) to test for intoxicating substances. The legal limit is 5 nanograms of THC in your blood; even if you did not smoke marijuana that day you can still be charged with DUI.
The penalties are the same as for an alcohol DUI: up to a year in jail, up to $5,000 in fines, drug evaluation/treatment and 90-day license suspension. The law applies to any street drug or prescription drug that impairs one’s ability to drive.
A person who causes a crash while under the influence of alcohol or drugs faces serious legal trouble. If no one is hurt, it will likely be charged as misdemeanor reckless driving. But if a passenger, pedestrian or occupant of the other vehicle is injured, it can be charged as felony vehicular assault, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines. If someone is killed, it rises to vehicular homicide, a major felony carrying a minimum of 15 months in prison up to a life sentence, plus up to $50,000 fine. It is also a felony to leave the scene of a DUI accident or to get in a crash with a child under the age of 16 in the car.
Implied Consent (Breath Test Refusal)
As a condition of your license to drive in Washington, the law says that you agree to be tested for drugs or alcohol if you are pulled over and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Refusing to submit to the breathalyzer will result in automatic suspension of your license for a minimum of one year. You can still be charged with DUI if you refuse the breath test, though it will be harder for the prosecution to prove its case.
License Suspension And Ignition Interlock
Many people do not realize that driver’s license suspension is separate from the criminal proceedings. From the date of arrest, you have 20 days to request a Washington Department of Licensure administrative hearing to contest your license suspension. This hearing is typically conducted by phone. Our lawyers can help you challenge whether the officer had reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop, probable cause for arrest or whether you were given a proper implied consent warning. It is possible to retain your license, regardless of the outcome of the criminal case.
If your license is suspended, Washington does not provide for a restricted license or “work permit.” This can be a great hardship if you can’t drive to school, your workplace or household errands. However, on a first-time DUI you may be able to drive after you have an ignition interlock installed on your vehicle. The interlock contains a breath-testing device that will prevent the car from starting if any alcohol is detected. For second offenses or aggravated DUI, ignition interlock is mandated during the period of suspension or revocation.
Exhausting Your DUI Defenses
Our attorneys have defended literally thousands of local residents charged with driving under the influence. We examine every detail for opportunities to dismiss the charges or defend you at trial.
Did the officer have reasonable suspicion to pull you over? Did they have probable cause to take you into custody? Did they advise you of your Miranda rights and/or the implied consent statute? Did they conduct the roadside tests and official breath test properly and maintain the integrity of that evidence?
About Field Sobriety Tests
The roadside tests are not designed to exonerate you. Rather they are designed to give police further evidence against you. When you are pulled over, you should not volunteer any information about alcohol or drugs. After providing mandatory information like your license and registration, ask the officer if you are free to go. If not, ask for a lawyer.
The officer may ask you to perform “sobriety tests” such as the Walk-And-Turn, the One-Legged Stand and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (pen test). There are many reasons these tests may not be fair or accurate, such as wind or rain, traffic zooming by, uneven terrain, what the person is wearing, a disability, or an individual’s lack of balance and coordination. Testimony about field sobriety tests is admissible in court, but a good lawyer can challenge the officer’s conclusions.
You are not required to perform field sobriety tests, including inadmissible tests like reciting the alphabet backward. Even if you “pass” the test, the officer may arrest you anyway, so why give them additional ammunition? You are also not required to blow into the portable roadside breath tester. These handheld machines are far less accurate than the official breathalyzer at the police station, and for that reason the portable breathalyzer reading is not admissible in court.
Challenging The Breath Test
With the help of a veteran lawyer, breathalyzer test results can be challenged. The breath test measures the percentage of ethanol in your blood. The result will be a number that reflects what the test has determined is your BAC (blood alcohol content).
Washington has a legal limit your .08 BAC while driving or while in physical control of a motor vehicle. At first glance that looks fairly scientific and objective and you would think that would erase all questions. The problem with this assumption is that the test is not necessarily objective or scientific because the test is not necessarily reliable. Was the defendant under continuous observation for 15 minute prior to the test? Was the machine tested and calibrated? Did you hold your breath or partially exhale before blowing into the machine? Did the breathalyzer read another substance as alcohol?
The more problems our lawyers can find with your breathalyzer test, the more likely the prosecutor will offer a favorable plea bargain to resolve your case – or dismiss the case entirely.
Put Your Trust In Experienced DUI Lawyers
Act immediately to protect your rights if you have been arrested for DUI in Washington. Too many things can go wrong with a DUI arrest to simply plead guilty and accept harsh, life-changing punishments you don’t deserve.
You can reach out 24/7. We respond promptly to emails and overnight messages and we provide a free initial consultation. Call our Tacoma law office at 253-363-8662 or contact us online. Hablamos español.