The traffic stop

Washington law requires that there must be an actual traffic violation or a specific, stated suspicion of a crime for you to be stopped by an officer. Being stopped for the sole purpose of allowing the officer to check your driver's license and registration is not sufficient. Although being stopped for a traffic violation does allow for you to be detained for a period reasonable for the officer's investigation, the law does not permit offers to detain you without limit.

The DUI investigation

The officer will investigate you for suspicion of DUI if, during the course of the investigation of the traffic violation, he or she can cite specific observations such as an odor of alcohol or drugs; slurred speech; red, blood-shot eyes; poor coordination; or flushed face. The officer will usually have you submit to an eye test, known as the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, and possibly other field sobriety tests, such as the "walk and turn," and the "one-leg stand." You usually are required to take a breath test as well.

If the traffic stop escalates to a DUI investigation, you need to know that it is voluntary to submit to the field sobriety tests, the breath test, and answering further questions. Field sobriety tests are not mandatory under Washington law, and there is no legal obligation to submit to the tests, which include the breath tests used at the time you are pulled over. You should politely decline both to perform any field sobriety tests and to answer any questions. If the officer advises you that your failure to perform a test will result in an immediate arrest, impound of your vehicle, or the suspension of your driver's license, you should immediately ask to speak with an attorney. In either scenario, you probably will be arrested and charged with a DUI anyway.

The law also does not require you to answer potentially incriminating questions. A polite, "I would like to speak with an attorney before I answer questions," is an excellent response. It is essential for you to maintain credibility, be consistently respectful, and never lie to an officer. It is in your best interest to decline further comment.

The breath test at the police station

Under Washington's Implied Consent Law, you have already consented to the breath test. Although you have the absolute right to refuse to take the breath test at the police station, the consequences are severe, and you can still be charged with a DUI.

Under the law, there are three consequences: (1) your driver's license can be suspended for a minimum of 1 year, or substantially longer if you have prior DUI convictions or alcohol-related administrative license suspensions; (2) if you refuse to take the breath test at the police station, your refusal can be introduced into evidence as "consciousness of guilt," and a test refusal will increase the mandatory minimum sentence that the judge must impose if you are found guilty; and (3) if you refuse the breath test at the police station, the Department of Licensing will revoke your driver's license for at least 1 year, and prior DUI's can increase the revocation. Further, requirements of Ignition Interlock and SR22 high-risk insurance will be enforced. Even after your driver's license is reinstated, the Department of Licensing requires an Ignition Interlock Breathalyzer (breath-alcohol tester installed in your vehicle for at least a year) and proof of financial responsibility by way of a certificate of high-risk insurance, known as a SR22.

The DUI charge

DUI 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 blood alcohol content (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 (while) Under the Influence: You are considered guilty of this charge if you have physical control of the vehicle-even if your car is stopped-and 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.

Final word

If you are pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving in Washington State, it is a good idea to have an attorney's immediate contact number at the ready in your cell phone's speed dial.

Additional resources:

Washington State Licensing: DUI

Washington State Patrol: Ignition Interlock Devices

Insurance.com: SR22 Insurance

Related Legal Guides:

Consequences of a DUI Conviction in Washington State

DUI and Drunk Driving Laws