If you are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, you face serious consequences. In addition to possible jail time and a sizable fine, you could lose your driver's license for several months or longer. Finding an experienced DUI attorney is critical to defending your case.

Facing a DUI conviction

A DUI charge is not a traffic ticket—it is a crime. A DUI is classified as a gross misdemeanor (crime) and is heard in District Court. A gross misdemeanor conviction means the judge has the authority to impose a maximum punishment of 1 year in jail and a $5,000 fine. A conviction can happen three ways: a) A jury issues a guilty verdict after a jury trial; b) a judge enters a finding of guilty after a bench trial; or c) you plead guilty.

If you are convicted, the judge must impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 1 day in jail for a first-time offense. If you provided a breath sample that registered over a 0.15 blood alcohol content (BAC) level or if you refused the test, then the mandatory minimum is 2 days in jail. A second conviction within 7 years carries a 30-day or 45-day mandatory minimum, depending on the breath sample level or refusal.

It doesn't end there: You'll also face consequences by the Department of Licensing (DOL). For example, immediately after you are arrested for a DUI offense, the officer will punch a hole in your license. Losing the right to drive varies from state to state; however, if you refuse to submit to a breath or blood test, your license will likely be suspended for a period of 1 year for a first refusal, or for 24 months if you have previously refused to submit to a breath test. If you have an unlawful BAC level, your driving privilege will likely be suspended for 3 months for a first offense and 24 months for a second incident.

A hearing at the DOL is necessary in order to determine if the DOL will uphold the automatic suspension. You must request the hearing within 30 days of the date you were arrested. Otherwise, you automatically waive your right to a hearing. In addition, the DOL hearing is not like a traffic ticket hearing.

It's important to know that in a DOL hearing you must present necessary proof to overcome your presumed guilt. During the DOL hearing, having an experienced DUI law attorney is invaluable for ensuring knowledgeable and vigorous litigation for your rights.

DUI charges

DUI law in Washington State is generally broken down into three different charges:

  • Driving Under the Influence: You are considered guilty of this charge if you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and have a BAC level of 0.08 or higher within 2 hours of driving, are affected by either alcohol or drugs, or are affected by both alcohol and drugs.

  • Physical Control of Vehicle Under the Influence: You are considered guilty of this charge if you have physical control of the vehicle when you are pulled over-even if your car is stopped-and you have a BAC level of 0.08 or higher, are affected by either alcohol or drugs, or are affected by both alcohol and drugs.

  • Driver Under 21 Consuming Alcohol: You are considered guilty of this charge if you are under 21 years of age and have a BAC level of 0.02 or higher within 2 hours of operating or being in physical control of the vehicle.

Facing a DUI accusation is stressful and terrifying. Being arrested and accused of a DUI brings humiliation on the roadside, at the police station, and in the courtroom. Without a driver's license, you could lose your job. In addition, a DUI conviction can create a permanent criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life. Unlike some crimes, DUI is a crime that can not be expunged from your criminal history.

Evaluate your DUI attorney carefully

Be wary of DUI attorneys promising guaranteed results. It is unethical for an attorney to guarantee any result. There is no way to accurately predict your chances of "beating" a DUI charge . Seek out an experienced attorney who will evaluate all the information and reports and then recommend a course of action.

Don't go it alone

If you walk into court and plead guilty without consulting an experienced DUI attorney, you may face tremendously harsh consequences. An accurate evaluation of your case's likely outcome involves not only the facts of the individual case and the applicable law, but also the interaction of the DUI attorney and that attorney's knowledge of the prosecutor's office and the judge assigned to the case. When accused of a DUI, you have a Constitutional right that ensures a vigorous defense for the best outcome.

Additional resources:

DOL Driver's Hearing Request Form

DOL list of forms

Washington State Court Directory

Washington State Patrol: Certified Ignition Interlock Devices

Related Legal Guides:

What to Do If You Are Stopped for Drunk Driving in Washington

Driving under the Influence

DUI and Drunk Driving Laws

Commercial Driver's License Disqualifications in Washington