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RCW 46.61.504 - Physical Control of a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated

1. Definition and Elements of the Crime

Under RCW 46.61.504, you can face charges of physically controlling a vehicle while under the influence. A prosecutor would need to show two things beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) you were in actual physical control of your car or another motor vehicle while under the influence of any drug or intoxicating liquor; and (2) within two hours of being in actual physical control of the vehicle, you had an alcohol concentration of .08 or greater, according to breath or blood analysis. Alternatively, the prosecutor would need to show beyond a reasonable doubt that you had a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher. You could also face physical control charges if you were under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol.

2. Examples

You could be charged with actual physical control under the influence in a range of different circumstances. The statute does not define what “actual physical control” is. You could be found in actual physical control if you were seated in the driver’s seat of a car that ran out of gas. Likewise, you could be found in actual physical control if you grabbed the steering wheel of a vehicle, even for a moment. You could also be found in actual physical control if you sat in the driver’s seat of a parked car with the keys in the ignition. It is important to be aware of these different possibilities because it might be wise to stay in a house or wherever you were when you were drinking or using drugs, or call a rideshare, rather than simply waiting in your parked car along the side of the street to sober up.

3. Related Offenses

Sometimes people in physical control of a vehicle under the influence face charges related to drugs. For instance, if you had pulled over in order to sober up on your way to sell cocaine to someone, and the police found you with bags of cocaine in the car, you could be charged with a drug crime. Or, if you had a minor present while you were in actual physical control under the influence, you might face child endangerment charges.

4. Defenses

In some cases, our attorneys can show that a prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a tough standard. However, we will look closely at your case to determine whether there are also constitutional or procedural violations that could provide us with a basis to get evidence from the stop or a test analysis suppressed. Without key evidence, the prosecutor may be more amenable to striking a deal or bringing charges that carry a lighter sentence.

Additionally, we may be able to raise a defense that you parked your car safely off the road, such that you were not in physical control. We would need to show that you were off the road by a preponderance of the evidence; this means that we would need to prove that it was more likely than not that you were safely off the road. The jury or judge will determine what was safe in terms of being off the road. Certain cities may argue that you were not safely off the road, even if you were legally parked on the side of the road.

5. Penalties

The penalties for actual physical control under the influence are the same as for DUI. Penalties may be imposed according to your blood alcohol concentration and other factors. More severe penalties are imposed if you have prior convictions. A mandatory minimum sentence of 24 hours of imprisonment is likely to be imposed.

6. Criminal Defense for Drunk Driving Cases

At Smith & White, PLLC, our Tacoma drunk driving defense lawyers provide a strong defense to charges brought under RCW 46.61.504. We answer our phones 24/7 and provide free legal advice so that you can consider your path forward. Representation with financing is available. Call us at (253) 203-1645 or complete our online form.

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