Receiving your first DUI charge can feel overwhelming, especially having to deal with the Department of Licensing (DOL) on top of the court. You may be feeling stressed from the amount of information you are receiving, not knowing where to begin, and worrying you will miss important deadlines. If you find yourself in this situation, here are a few important things you should know regarding the penalties you may be facing, tight deadlines, steps we recommend taking, and some possible outcomes you can hope for.
A person can be charged with driving under the influence, as defined under RCW 46.61.502, under four different circumstances: (1) if they submit a breath or blood test, within two hours of driving, with a blood-alcohol level at or above 0.08, (2) if they submit a blood test, within two hours of driving, with 5 nanograms or higher of active THC (marijuana), (3) if the officer’s observations show that the person was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and (4) if the officer’s observations show that the person was under the influence of a combination of alcohol and any drug. The last two can be proved even if a breath or blood test shows numbers below the 0.08 alcohol content or 5 nanograms of THC. Finally, a person under 21 can be charged with DUI as above or minor operating a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol or marijuana under RCW 46.61.503 if the breath or blood test shows an alcohol level between 0.02 and 0.08 or a THC level above 0 nanograms but below 5 nanograms.
The arrest will trigger two separate actions against you: (1) an administrative license suspension from the Department of Licensing which is issued upon notice of your arrest (more on this below), and (2) a criminal case filed into a Municipal or District Court.
Penalties for a first offense DUI:
The penalties you may be facing for a first offense DUI can vary, depending on the level of your breath or blood test. The maximum sentence on a DUI case is 364 days in jail and a $5000 fine. Generally, the penalties for a first offense DUI conviction go as follows:
- If your breath or blood test shows THC, an alcohol concentration lower than 0.15, the mandatory minimum sentence is 1 day in jail and a fine of $990.50. There is also a 90-day license suspension and a 1-year interlock restriction.
- If your breath or blood test shows an alcohol concentration above 0.15, the mandatory minimum sentence is 2 days in jail and a fine of $1245.50. There is also a 1-year license suspension and a 1-year interlock restriction.
- If you refuse to provide a breath or blood sample, the mandatory minimum sentence is 2 days in jail and a fine of $1245.50. There is also a 2-year license suspension and a 1-year interlock restriction.
The above penalties are separate from any administrative action taken by the Department of License (explained below). However, you do get day-for-day credit on any conviction-related suspension or interlock restriction for any time you were previously suspended for the same arrest and any time you have had an interlock installed for the same case.
You can apply for an Ignition Interlock License to allow you to drive during your suspension and you will be required to maintain high risk/SR22 Insurance during the term of your interlock license and generally for three years after the suspension is up.
Some aggravating factors that can raise the severity of the penalties you may be facing could be:
- If you caused or were involved in an accident
- If you had passengers in your vehicle at the time
- If you had passengers in your vehicle that were under 16 years of age at the time
Things to do:
- Apply for a DOL Hearing: The most important thing to do quickly after being arrested for DUI is to request a Department of Licensing Hearing. Right after your arrest, the arresting officer notifies DOL which triggers an administrative license suspension of either 90-days for a non-refusal case or 1-year for a refusal case on a first-time DUI. This suspension takes effect 30-days after the date of arrest. The only way to contest this suspension is to request an administrative hearing within 7 days of the date of arrest. Check out our blog post on DOL hearings to learn more. We recommend checking your License eXpress account to verify your licensing status often to ensure you do not drive with a suspended license and face additional charges.
- Retain an Attorney: Another crucial thing for you to do right away is to retain an attorney. Your attorney can appear for you at the DOL hearing to question the officer and attempt to dismiss the administrative license suspension. Your attorney will likely also want to request reports, videos, and other records of the traffic stop, arrest, breath test, and any other footage involving your arrest. This footage will not be preserved forever, so your attorney must request copies of them as soon as possible. They will verify the officer’s actions during the traffic stop and administration of the tests, to ensure that everything was completed correctly. If videos exist of the contact, they are often the best evidence to contradict any observations the officer has noted in their report. This is an important step in the process of defending your case, so try to retain an attorney as quickly as possible.
- Complete Recommended Treatment: Your attorney will recommend you complete an alcohol and drug use evaluation from a state-approved treatment agency. The agency will evaluate your alcohol and drug use and risks and will make treatment recommendations. The minimum treatment allowed by the Legislature in a DUI case is an 8-hour Alcohol and Drug Information School Class and attendance at a 2-hour DUI Victims Panel. It is beneficial to complete these treatment programs or classes as soon as possible because it will show the prosecutor that you are taking proactive steps to avoid this situation from reoccurring. When you appear in court, the prosecutor will see that you have been working to improve yourself and learning from your actions and will be more willing to work on an outcome that everyone agrees on.
Each situation is different, and penalties vary, but there are a few outcomes that are more common for a first offense DUI charge. The worst-case scenario is that you could be found guilty and face the penalties outlined in RCW 46.61.5055 – be sure to verify that you are checking the penalties made effective on January 1st, 2022. The best-case scenario is that your case could be dismissed due to a legal reason such as a bad traffic stop, which is why it is crucial to retain an attorney right away so they can begin looking into your case. Another common outcome is that your attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce your DUI to a lesser charge, such as Reckless Driving or Negligent Driving. Be aware that negotiation outcomes can vary depending on your criminal history, treatment, and many other factors. Another possible outcome - if you meet the requirements - is that the judge may approve Deferred Prosecution, which is a program that requires you to stay out of trouble for 5 years and complete treatment for 2 years. After following this program for 5 years, your case may be dismissed. However, you can only use Deferred Prosecution once in your life, so your attorney may likely suggest refraining from using it on your first offense.
Contact Us for Assistance in Your DUI Case:
If you have been charged with DUI, it is not a hopeless situation. There are things you and your attorney can do to try to get through this situation as easily as possible. If you have been arrested or charged with DUI, give our office a call at (425) 224-7075. We will listen to you, answer your questions, ease your stress, and resolve your case. Owner and principal attorney Lance Fryrear of The Law Offices of Lance Fryrear has defended the accused in Lynnwood and throughout Washington for the past 20 years. We will be sensitive and careful every step of the way, doing everything we can to help and support you.
Give us a call at (425) 224-7075 to learn more!