Written by attorney Gregory Wayne Schwesinger


Arrested for Driving Under the Influence in Washington State -- it can unfortunately happen to anyone who elects to both drink alcohol and drive a motor vehicle in Washington. This is because it is not illegal to drink alcohol, it is not illegal to drive a motor vehicle, and in most circumstances, it is not illegal to drink and then drive in the State of Washington. The information that follows herein is written to provide the reader with general information about her rights when pulled over by law enforcement in Washington State for DUI. Washington State DUI Laws make it illegal to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. There are three ways prosecutors are permitted to prove their case: (1) driving a motor vehicle and within two hours of driving that vehicle have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher; (2) driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs; and (3) driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Driving Under the Influence in Washington is a gross misdemeanor, and a person convicted of DUI/ DWI faces the unsavory prospect of, among other things, serving 364 days in jail, paying a fine of $5,000, losing her Washington State driving privilege, having an ignition interlock attached to her vehicle and obtaining high risk insurance.

- What Should Someone Do When Stopped By A Police Officer And is Facing A DUI-

So you chose to drive home after being out drinking with friends, having a few drinks after work, or drinking at that special occasion. There are now flashing lights behind you signaling you to pull over to the side of the road. Undoubtedly scared and most certainly a bit nervous, the decisions you make and actions you take thereafter are crucial to how things might turn out; the next ten to fifteen minutes can make the difference between receiving a warning for failing to use your turn signal, or calling a Washington DUI attorney to help you decide if you should take a breath test. In virtually all Washington State DUI cases, law enforcement initially is pulling over a driver for some infraction(s) he witnessed the driver committing. At that time he generally has little to no evidence that the driver is possibly driving under the influence. Infractions such as speeding, driving with a broken tail light, or cracked windshield, or failing to use a turn signal are just some the infractions that can be the instigator for law enforcement to initiate a traffic stop and eventually arrest someone for DWI in Washington. Although you can never control whether or not an officer arrests you for DUI, you can most certainly control the information you provide to the officer. Upon being stopped for a mere traffic infraction, you are required to show law enforcement your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance – three requirements for driving a motor vehicle in the State of Washington. If and when you are pulled over by law enforcement, always get these items out immediately. One of the first things the officer is going to look for is your finger dexterity and your ability to follow simple directions/ instructions when retrieving your license, registration and insurance. If you already have these three things out and ready for the officer, that prevents him from initially assessing your finger dexterity and ability to follow simple directions. During your contact with law enforcement you should try, as politely as possible, to limit your communication with the police. Although you can’t control whether he smells alcohol on your breath or sees that you have bloodshot, watery eyes (standard observations that virtually every officer makes in his written DUI arrest report), but you most certainly can control what you say to law enforcement. If the officer tries to engage you in conversation, answer as briefly and as politely as possible. Alternatively you might choose to politely decline to answer the officer’s questions; you are absolutely under no obligation to speak with the police, it is your choice. Remember, however, that at all times you should remain polite and respectful no matter the circumstances; you do not want to make the officer angry or upset. If the officer inquires about whether you drank alcohol, politely tell the officer that you are choosing not to answer his question(s); tell him that you read somewhere or heard from someone that you don’t have to answer a police officer’s questions and you’d prefer not to in this particular circumstance. In a criminal setting silence is the golden rule - it can’t be used against you in court. Conversely, lying about how much alcohol you drank can and probably will only get you further into trouble. As an aside, be aware that an officer may try to get you to talk to him, and he may also imply that innocent people always answer his question(s). This is often a ruse that you should not fall for. If the officer continues to ask you questions, politely tell him that you would feel more comfortable talking with a DUI attorney before making any statements or answering any questions because that is what you have read and/or heard that you should do whenever coming into contact with law enforcement for any reason whatsoever. Follow this up by respectfully asking the officer if you are under arrest, and if not, could you please be allowed to get on to your destination. This should speed up the process a bit, and he may even decide to let you get on your way. At worst, the questions will probably cease.

- Should Someone Voluntarily Perform Field Sobriety Tests When Offered by Law Enforcement-

In short, it is generally never a good idea to voluntarily take Field Sobriety Tests (“FST’s"). The tests are voluntary in nature, and you are not obligated to take them in Washington State. These tests are essentially “divided attention" tests and more likely than not you are not going to perform the tests up to the officer’s expectations regardless of what you do, or how you do them; although it is true the officer “scores" the test results, it is not too farfetched to believe that if you are being asked to do the tests the officer already has a predisposition to believe that your ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired. Thus, politely decline to perform any tests on scene. Remember, the idea is to give as little evidence as possible to law enforcement. If after declining to perform the field sobriety tests, the officer harasses you further about the FST’s, politely request to speak with a qualified DUI attorney and exercise your rights to remain silent. By doing this the officer should be prohibited from asking you any more questions and he must decide if there is enough evidence to arrest you for DUI/ DWI/ Driving Under the Influence, and take you to the police station for an opportunity to take a breath test.

- What Happens Immediately After a DUI Arrest-

The first thing to understand is that just because a person is “arrested" for DUI does not mean she is “convicted" of DWI in Washington. From the moment a police officer pulls a person over and suspects she is DUI, he continuously looks for evidence that she is too impaired to operate a motor vehicle – this includes, but is certainly is not limited to, slurred speech, bloodshot, watery eyes, and poor balance/ coordination. Because of this, if you are pulled over by law enforcement after consuming alcohol, choose to not speak to the officer any more than is absolutely necessary, and always ensure you exercise your rights - to include requesting an opportunity to talk with a DUI lawyer in private. Do not agree to take any tests on scene, or to answer any questions until you are allowed to speak with a qualified Washington DUI attorney. Choosing whether to take a breath test at the police station is an important decision. A person arrested for DUI in Washington State is entitled to speak with an attorney before she decides to take, or not, a breath test. Everyone arrested for Driving Under the Influence in Washington should take the opportunity to privately speak with a DUI attorney and discuss his/her options. The bottom line – if you are arrested for Driving Under the Influence in Washington State: (1) do not speak with police officers (exercise your right to remain silent), and (2) demand to speak with a DUI attorney in Washington State.

- What Are the “Implied Consent Laws" in Washington State And How Do They Impact Drivers-

The Washington “Implied Consent Laws" are found in the Revised Codes of Washington under Title 46, Section 20. They are something the Washington State Legislature created to make it infinitely easier to convict people of driving under the influence in Washington.Because not all people are the same, and alcohol and/or drugs affects different people differently, the Washington Legislature decided that a breath test result of .08 or greater signified that any person with such a test result was too impaired to drive motor vehicle, and created the implied consent law which essentially says that all Washington State Driver’s impliedly consent to take a breath test if lawfully requested by law enforcement. The law does allow Washington drivers who are offered a breath test the option of refusing the test, but doing so can cause much harsher penalties upon conviction (an automatic two year license suspension, instead of 90 days/ 365 Days, for starters). Choosing to take, or not, a breath test, however, is an extremely difficult decision, and the decision should absolutely not be made until the person speaks with a Washington DUI attorney about his/ her specific situation.

**Please remember when reading this information that it is not in any way intended to be relied upon alone as legal advice. If you find yourself facing a DUI charge, please contact a qualified DUI Attorney in Washington State before making any decisions.**

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