Washington is like most other states in the U.S. in that one of the most common crimes committed in the state is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI). According to their own data, the Washington State Patrol made 15,401 drunk driving arrests in 2013. This number, though substantial, is actually down 11% from 2012, when there were 17,382 arrests, and 18% from 2009, when there were 18,740.
However, while DUI is one of the most common crimes to be charged with, the process of defending against it is surprisingly complex. This is due, in large part, to the fact that Washington uses a two-tiered process for handling DUI prosecutions. The first tier is administrative, and deals with your driver license. The second, and more serious, tier is the criminal process, which deals with any fines or jail time that you may receive. Understanding these distinct processes can help you see exactly what's going on, if you've been arrested for DUI.
If you get arrested for DUI, the first thing that will happen is your license will get suspended by the Washington Department of Licensing. Because they're the department that issued you your driver's license, they can take it away without much fanfare or paperwork. In Washington, this license suspension happens on the spot, if you take a breathalyzer test and it shows that your breath or blood alcohol content (BAC) is at or above the legal limit, or if you refuse to take the test. Soon after your DUI arrest, you'll receive a notice from the Department of Licensing that your license has been suspended, often for 90 days or more, depending on the circumstances of the arrest, and your prior criminal history.
You can, however, contest the Department of Licensing's suspension by requesting a DUI hearing, but you only have 20 days to file the request! If you request a hearing, you make the Department of Licensing prove that there was a basis to suspend your driver's license. We'll go over this hearing in detail, in person with you or in a later blog post.
In addition to the administrative process, there's also the criminal piece of an DUI charge. While the administrative process pit you against the Department of Licensing over the fate of your driver's license, the criminal process pits you against the state of Washington or a city where you were arrested, acting through a prosecutor, over the fate of criminal sanctions, like fines and jail time. Because there's so much more at stake, here, the Washington courts act as a referee. This part of your DUI arrest is more like what you've seen on TV, with a court, a judge, and potentially even a trial with a jury of your "peers."
Many people, especially those who have had the luck to never have to go through a criminal proceeding before, are overwhelmed by their DUI charges. There seem to be so many moving parts to keep track of, and different players in the game. Being overwhelmed makes it incredibly difficult to effectively defend yourself against the charges. That's where attorney Kevin Trombold comes in. Call his law office at 206-971-0067.