If I am caught drinking and driving in Washington, what will happen to me? I hear that you automatically go to jail and lose your license. If so, for how long are you in jail and when do you get your license back?
The crime of DUI is a gross misdemeanor, which means that if there is a conviction the judge will have the authority to impose a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a five thousand dollar fine. A conviction can happen when a jury issues a verdict of guilty after a jury trial or when a judge enters a finding of guilty after a plea of guilty or a bench trial. If there is a conviction, then the judge must impose a mandatory minimum sentence of one day in jail for a first offender. If the first offender provided a breath sample over a .15 or refused the test, then the mandatory minimum is two days in jail. A second conviction within seven years carries a thirty day and forty-five day mandatory minimum, again depending on the breath sample level or refusal.
If you are arrested for DUI with the BAC over the legal limit or after you refused to submit to a chemical or physical test officer will punch a hole in your license.
Losing the right to drive varies from state to state. However, if you have refused to submit to a chemical or physical test, your license will likely be suspended administratively for a period of one year for a first refusal, or for twenty four months if you have previously refused to submit to such a test. If you have an unlawful BAC, your driving privilege will likely be suspended for three months for a first offense, and twenty four months for a second incident.
Contrary to public opinion or belief, it is not against the law to legally drink and subsequently drive in Washington State. However, it is against the law to drink and drive and to either (1) have an alcohol concentration of .08 or more (as shown by analysis of the person’s breath or blood) within two hours of driving, or (2) to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor or any drug. This means that you can consume alcoholic beverages and drive so long as (1) your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is not above .08 or more within two hours of driving, or (2) you are not affected by what you drank (determining whether an individual is “affected by” what they drank is entirely subjective and subject to much debate). It is a civil infraction to have an open container in a vehicle in Washington State.
If you are convicted of DUI (as defined by Revised Code of Washington 46.61.502 or 46.61.504) you will face mandatory minimum penalties such as jail time and loss of driving privileges. The penalties imposed depend upon: (1) whether this is a first offense, and (2) if the alleged alcohol concentration is above .15 or the individual is alleged to have refused to submit a sample of his or her breath or blood. As you can assume, individuals will face much more significant penalties for subsequent offenses (i.e. offenses committed within a seven year period).
Please contact me to discuss the implications of a DUI charge in Washington State.