Driving under the influence, or DUI, is a serious offense under Washington’s criminal laws, which are some of the toughest in the country. A conviction for DUI can lead to a fine, a sentence of incarceration, and driver’s license suspension. The specific level of a DUI offense, and the penalty a court is authorized to assess, depend on several factors, including the extent of a driver’s impairment due to drugs or alcohol and the number of a driver’s prior DUI offenses. A charge of driving under the influence requires careful preparation and close review of the law and facts. If you are facing a DUI charge, you should consult with an experienced Washington DUI attorney, who can help you develop a strategy to minimize the impact of the charge on your life.
Washington law broadly defines DUI as the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two, such that the driver’s ability to operate the vehicle safely is impaired. This applies even if the driver has a lawful prescription for the drug. While any level of intoxication could lead to a DUI charge, the law specifically states that a driver whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher within two hours of driving has committed a DUI offense.
The state has the burden of proving that a driver was intoxicated or under the influence of a drug while driving. Police often obtain evidence through a blood or breath test, but may also testify as to a driver’s behavior and apparent state of intoxication.
DUI as Gross Misdemeanor
Most DUI offenses are prosecuted as gross misdemeanors in Washington. A gross misdemeanor typically has a maximum possible sentence of one year in county jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. The specific sentence for a conviction of a gross misdemeanor DUI must take into account the driver’s BAC, if such information is available, and any prior DUI offenses.
DUI as Class C Felony
In certain circumstances, the law treats a DUI as a class C felony, which has a maximum possible sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a fine of $10,000. The state may prosecute an alleged DUI as a class C felony if the defendant:
- Has at least four prior DUI convictions within the previous ten-year period;
- Has a prior conviction for vehicular homicide while intoxicated;
- Has a prior conviction for vehicular assault while intoxicated; or
- Has an out-of-state conviction for vehicular homicide or assault while intoxicated.
A defendant in a DUI case needs the assistance of an attorney with knowledge of Washington’s legal system. Washington DUI lawyer Timothy L. Healy has over fifteen years’ experience representing defendants charged with alleged DUI offenses in Tacoma, Pierce County, and elsewhere in Washington state, helping them obtain plea agreements, reduced sentences, dismissals, and acquittals. Contact us today online or at (888) 312-3093 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.