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Tacoma DUI Lawyers Defend From All The Angles

Some people think the flashing red lights and a breath test reading of .08% mean game over. That is simply not the case. Washington state has strict driving under the influence (DUI) laws with harsh penalties, but law enforcement officers 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 DUI, The Law Offices of Smith & White, PLLC, can help. We are criminal defense lawyers, and, with more than 40 combined years of experience, we have handled thousands of drunk driving cases. 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, we are well equipped to defend you. We have experience with the full spectrum of DUI charges, including:

  • 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

How Can We Help With Your DUI Case?

At Smith & White, we are uniquely equipped to defend drivers against Washington DUI charges because of our experience. One of us is a former prosecutor and the other is a former public defender. We have a former law enforcement investigator on our staff as well. Because of our backgrounds, we have a firm understanding of how the state court system works and how to protect people who encounter it.

How our experience can help you:

  • We know how to connect with juries during the trial: We have spent years on both sides of the courtroom and have a keen sense of the arguments that juries respond to.
  • We know how to identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case: We understand how prosecutors think, and we are able to stand up to them because we can identify gaps in their logic and arguments.
  • We know how to question witnesses and evidence: We are not afraid to challenge the veracity of witness testimonies and the admissibility of evidence collected during DUI arrests. We are familiar with the tactics that law enforcement officials use, and we possess the tenacity and skill to counter those and any irregularities in a case.

Not only have we helped our clients, but we have won awards for it as well. We won an Avvo Clients’ Choice Award in 2018, and we have received top peer-review ratings on Avvo and through Martindale-Hubbell. Our firm is also accredited by the Better Business Bureau.

Most importantly, we have results on our side. We have helped numerous clients get their criminal charges reduced or dismissed, and we will be committed to doing our very best to minimize the impact of your DUI charges on your life.

What To Expect: Possible Outcomes Of A DUI Case With Legal Representation

Many people charged with DUI make the mistake of pleading guilty right away or trying to represent themselves, thinking that they can save money this way. In the long run, they often cost themselves more in terms of fines, lost driving privileges and time spent in jail than if they had worked with an experienced DUI defense attorney.

While every case is different, we are committed to the best possible outcome for every client. Instead of letting the police and prosecution dictate how your case will go, we use our skills to influence the case’s direction and outcome. We often win dismissals based on factors that the average defendant would not know about on their own, such as illegal procedures during the traffic stop that make the evidence that the police gathered during the stop inadmissible. Our defense strategies are designed to leverage the facts of your case and your legal rights to the fullest extent.

When a dismissal is not possible, we use our negotiating abilities to get prosecutors to reduce the charges or recommend a lighter sentence. For the most serious DUI-related charges, there may be several alternatives, such as electronic home monitoring and work release, that can keep you out of jail, allow you to keep your job and minimize the effects on your life. We will discuss these options with you and help you decide.

Finally, an experienced defense attorney can advise you if going to trial is the best option for your case. Having one of us represent you in court can give you the best chance at a fair trial and reasonable result. There are no guarantees in criminal law, but hiring a defense lawyer often results in a better outcome.

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. Penalties include the following:

  • First offense: Minimum of one day in jail and up to 364 days, fines and court costs, alcohol evaluation/treatment and a 90-day license suspension. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is .15% or higher, then a mandatory ignition interlock will be required for one year.
  • Second offense (within seven years): Minimum of 30 days in jail to one year plus 60 days of 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 of 90 days in 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 charge is a misdemeanor, but it rises to a felony if you have three or more prior DUI convictions or if aggravating factors are involved, such as if a child was in the car or you caused 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 charge is only a misdemeanor (rather than a gross misdemeanor) and does not count as a prior DUI if that young person is later arrested for drunk driving after they turn 21 years old.

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 conviction: 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.

DUI Accidents

A person who causes a crash while under the influence of alcohol or drugs faces serious legal trouble. If no one is hurt, they will likely be charged with 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 and up to a life sentence as well as up to a $50,000 fine. It is also a felony to leave the scene of a DUI accident or 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 DUI. Refusing to submit to the breath test 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 a driver’s license suspension is separate from criminal proceedings. From the date of the arrest, you have 20 days to request a Washington State Department of Licensing administrative hearing to contest your license suspension. This hearing is typically conducted by phone. We can help you challenge whether the officer had reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop or 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 attend school, go to work or do household errands. However, on a first-time DUI conviction, 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 a second offense or an aggravated DUI conviction, ignition interlock is mandated during the period of suspension or revocation.

Exhausting Your DUI Defenses

We have defended thousands of local residents who have been charged with DUI. We will 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 tests 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, such as 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 that these tests may not be fair or accurate, such as wind or rain, high-speed traffic, 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 breath test administered at the police station. For that reason, the portable breath test reading is not admissible in court.

Challenging The Breath Test

With the help of a veteran lawyer, breath 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 to be.

Washington has a legal BAC limit of .08% while driving or being 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 minutes 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 breath test read another substance as being alcohol?

The more problems that we can find with your breath 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 to us 24/7. We promptly respond to emails and overnight messages, and we provide an expert consultation. Call our Tacoma law office at 253-363-8662 or contact us online. Hablamos español.