What you should know when pulled over for DUI in Washington

People accused of driving while drunk in Washington should know their rights as well as the possible penalties they may face.

Someone pulled over on suspicion of drinking while driving in Washington should be well aware of his or her rights. If that event leads to an arrest, it is imperative to understand whether the charge is a felony or misdemeanor as well as what the consequences of DUI may be.

Do I have to take a breath test?

The state of Washington has an implied consent law, which means that drivers automatically consent to taking breath tests if a law enforcement officer believes that they may have been drinking. Now, it is possible to refuse these tests. However, doing so will automatically result in at least one year of driver's license suspension. Further, the prosecution could try to use that refusal in court.

Do I have to take field sobriety tests?

Technically, there is no law that states that people must submit to field sobriety tests. In fact, these tests - such as standing on one leg or walking in a straight line - are designed for failure. The decision to take these tests is up to the person in question. Taking the tests could give prosecutors "evidence" of drinking and driving. It is also important to consider that forgoing the tests may not prevent an arrest.

Taking and performing poorly on a test would not necessarily indicate guilt. Many other factors like certain health conditions can affect the way someone performs on these tests. Further, a law enforcement officer could fail to abide by the guidelines that determine how these tests should be administered.

Is a DUI a misdemeanor or felony?

This depends on the circumstances. The law states that with several exceptions, a criminal charge like DUI is often a gross misdemeanor. However, the charge could be a felony if any of the following is true:

  • In 10 years, the driver has accumulated four or more DUI offenses
  • The driver has been convicted of vehicular homicide or assault associated with alcohol
  • The driver has committed an offense in another state that would be comparable to the DUI homicide and assault charges

This is an important distinction, as the penalties associated with a felony are much steeper.

What are the penalties for DUI?

According to the Washington Courts, there are some mandatory sentences associated with drunk driving charges. For example, someone convicted of DUI for the first time will serve no less than 24 consecutive hours in jail. Someone with two or more offenses will serve at least 90 days. There are also mandatory minimum and maximum fines, ranging from $940 to $5,000.

The Washington State Department of Licensing points out that a DUI conviction can lead to license suspension of between 90 days and four years. In regards to both criminal and administrative penalties, the judge or licensing department will take into account various factors when determining the severity of the punishment.

DUI charges should never be taken lightly, as they can have a profound effect on someone's future and freedom. Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a criminal defense attorney in Washington.