If you are accused of DUI (driving under the influence) in the state of Washington, you will actually be facing two types of charges – a criminal charge and an “administrative” charge.
It’s not “double jeopardy,” and in fact, most states have a similar two-part approach to handling DUI cases.
When you are arrested for DUI in Washington, you will be charged criminally with driving under the influence, and you will also become subject to an administrative driver’s license suspension by the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL).
Your driver’s license will be suspended “administratively” unless you request a DOL hearing within twenty days of your DUI arrest.
WHO MAY REQUEST A DOL HEARING?
If you were arrested for DUI on the basis of a blood test, you are not eligible to request a hearing, but if you took a breathalyzer test or refused to take any DUI test, you’re eligible.
A $375 non-refundable fee must accompany your request for a DOL hearing, although that fee can be waived for drivers who are facing financial hardship.
At your DOL hearing, the DOL will decide if you can keep your license or if it will be suspended – and if so, for how long. The minimum length of a DOL license suspension is sixty days.
HOW WILL A DUI ATTORNEY HELP?
The DOL procedure is entirely separate from any criminal DUI prosecution, but for both procedures, you are going to need the advice and representation that a DUI attorney can provide.
Contact an attorney as quickly as possible after a DUI arrest. Your attorney can help you with your request for a DOL hearing and tell you what to expect there, but you must act at once. You have only twenty days to request a DOL hearing.
When you request a DOL hearing after a DUI arrest, and your hearing date is scheduled, your license will not be suspended prior to the hearing.
WHAT FACTORS ARE CONSIDERED WHEN YOUR LICENSE IS SUSPENDED?
If the DOL suspends your driver’s license, for how long will the suspension last? That will depend on:
1. your previous criminal record
2. your blood alcohol content level at the time of your DUI arrest
3. your cooperation or lack of it when you were asked to take a field sobriety test
4. any other relevant factors linked to your DUI arrest
Other “relevant factors” might include illegal drugs or firearms found in the vehicle; having a minor as a passenger in the vehicle; and speeding and/or reckless driving immediately prior to your arrest.
HOW SHOULD YOU APPROACH A DOL HEARING?
What’s the best way to prepare for a DOL license suspension hearing? Here are some important recommendations:
1. Have an attorney’s help: If you are arrested for DUI in this state, the very first thing that you must do is reach out to a skilled DUI attorney. You’ll discuss the details of your case and strategies for retaining your driving privilege.
2. Learn everything you can: Learn what the state of Washington’s DUI laws say and require. Ask your attorney as many questions as you need to ask.
3. Help with your defense: Tell your lawyer every detail. If the police violated your rights in any way during a traffic stop, interrogation, search, or arrest, the charges against you may have to be dropped or reduced.
Your DUI lawyer may also challenge the accuracy of a breathalyzer exam (if you submitted to one) or the testimony of the arresting officer.
WHAT ABOUT THE “CRIMINAL” DUI CHARGE?
You’ll need a DUI defense attorney who routinely works double duty – someone who can fight for your driver’s license at a DOL hearing while preparing a criminal defense for your DUI case.
Even if you are allowed by the DOL to retain your driver’s license, it can be suspended by the criminal courts in this state if you are convicted of driving under the influence.
For a misdemeanor first-offense DUI conviction in the state of Washington, you could be sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
Additionally, everyone who is convicted of DUI in this state will be ordered by the court to have an ignition interlock device installed in his or her personal vehicle before he or she is allowed to drive again.
If you refused to take a chemical DUI test after you were formally arrested, the criminal court could suspend your driver’s license for up to a year.
HOW ARE SUBSEQUENT DUI CONVICTIONS PENALIZED?
Subsequent DUI charges, as you might imagine, trigger penalties that are incrementally more severe with each conviction.
Moreover, the legal and administrative penalties for DUI in this state are only the beginning of your troubles if you’re convicted.
Your automobile insurance rates will increase after you are convicted for DUI, and if you drive professionally or if driving is an essential part of your work, you may need to seek another type of employment.
HOW ARE WASHINGTON’S DUI LAWS APPLIED TO JUVENILES?
An underage driver arrested for DUI in this state will also face a driver’s license suspension from the Department of Licensing and will also need an attorney’s help.
Because alcohol consumption is forbidden by law for persons under the age of 21, a driver under age 21 may be convicted of DUI in this state with a blood alcohol level measuring as little as 0.02 percent. (The “legal limit” for adult drivers is 0.08 percent.)
Underage drivers convicted of DUI are typically penalized with ninety days in jail and a $1000 fine.
A convicted underage driver may also be placed on probation, required to complete an alcohol and drug assessment, or ordered into a treatment program.
HOW CAN YOU COMPLETELY AVOID DUI PROBLEMS?
Obviously, the best strategy for dealing with all of these potential legal difficulties is simply to not drink and drive – period. If you plan to drink, plan ahead. Use a designated driver, a taxi, or a rideshare service.
Still, if you should make a bad judgment and you end up charged with DUI in the greater Seattle area – or anywhere in the state of Washington – get the legal help you need and speak to an experienced DUI lawyer at once.
It’s your freedom and your future that will be at stake, and it’s your right to have legal help. If you face a DUI charge in the state of Washington, you must exercise that right immediately.