Reducing a DUI charge in Washington State is increasingly challenging. Alcohol-related accidents have surged in recent years, prompting legislation to pass stricter laws. Even a first-time offense carries minimum penalties.
Can You Get A DUI Reduced In Washington State?
Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may be possible to reduce your DUI charge to reckless or negligent driving. Washington State has some of the harshest and most complex DUI laws in the country, leading to a wide range of potential charges.
At minimum, a DUI may be charged as a gross misdemeanor. However, the charge can go up to a Class A felony. The severity of a DUI charge is determined by various factors, including:
- The driver’s blood alcohol level
- Whether or not someone was injured or killed
- If the driver has been convicted of a DUI in the last 10 years
While it is uncommon to reduce a DUI charge, some considerations may help or hurt your chances.
Factors That May Help Mitigate DUI Charges
A skilled DUI defense attorney in Washington State may be able to negotiate lesser charges if you:
- Have a low blood alcohol content (BAC)
- Were cooperative with law enforcement
- Have no prior criminal charges or arrests
- Have a clean driving record
- Are voluntarily seeking treatment
Even if the charges cannot be reduced, the above factors may influence whether the judge will impose the maximum or minimum penalties.
Factors That May Aggravate DUI Charges
Some elements of a DUI arrest can aggravate charges and make it impossible to have them reduced. For example, if the driver:
- Causes an accident with injury to property or person
- Has a high BAC
- Is under the legal drinking age
- Has a suspended license
- Refused to submit to a breath test
- Had any passengers, especially a child
- Is operating a commercial motor vehicle
A DUI conviction carries severe penalties. Aggravating factors may lead to enhanced penalties. However, an experienced lawyer may be able to negotiate a reckless driving or negligent driving charge. While both are considered misdemeanors, the penalties are significantly different.
Benefits of Reducing a DUI Charge to a Reckless Driving Charge
A reckless driving charge is a gross misdemeanor under Washington State law. A “gross misdemeanor” is considered more serious than a regular misdemeanor. However, it is classified as a minor criminal offense.
Reckless Driving Penalties are Less Severe
Misdemeanor DUIs and reckless driving charges carry similar penalties. For example, a conviction for either charge may result in:
- A maximum of 364 days in prison
- A $5,0000 fine
- A required SR-22 insurance form for 3 years
The SR-22 form is designed to show financial responsibility on the part of a driver after a serious traffic violation. It must be provided by a driver’s insurance company, marking them as a high-risk driver. Some auto insurance companies may refuse to provide the SR-22 form. Other insurers will offer the form at significantly higher premiums.
Despite the similarities, there are important benefits to having a misdemeanor DUI reduced to a reckless driving charge. Reckless driving does not carry the same stigma attached to a DUI. Also, DUI convictions require strict minimum penalties:
- Either a minimum of 24 hours in jail, 15 days house arrest, or 90 days of a sobriety program monitoring 24 hours per day
- $823 total minimum fine
- Mandatory ignition interlock device
- 90-day license suspension
However, the minimum penalties for reckless driving are less severe:
- There is no mandatory jail sentence
- An ignition interlock system is not required
- There is a 30-day license suspension instead of 90 days
If convicted, a person will still have a gross misdemeanor on their record for life unless they have it expunged.
A Reckless Driving Conviction May be Expunged
A DUI conviction can never be expunged, even for a first-time offense. However, it is possible to have a reckless driving conviction expunged.
When a person has their record expunged, it means that their criminal history is no longer available to the public. They are released from all penalties associated with a conviction, including the need to disclose their conviction on a housing or job application.
Benefits of Reducing a DUI Charge to a Negligent Driving Charge
A DUI may be reduced to negligent driving in the first degree. A negligent driving charge is a misdemeanor. It is defined as:
- Driving in a manner that puts people in danger or has the potential to put people in danger
- Driving in a way that seems impaired by alcohol or another substance
- Failing to exercise reasonable care when operating a vehicle
There are several benefits to reducing a DUI charge to negligent driving in the first degree.
It is a Lesser Misdemeanor Charge
DUI and reckless driving charges are gross misdemeanors. They carry the most severe penalties and highest fines next to felony charges. Alternatively, negligent driving in the first degree is a regular misdemeanor.
The offense is considered far less serious, carrying more lenient penalties, including:
- A fine of up to $1000
- No more than 2 years probation
- A maximum sentence of 90 days in jail
In addition, negligent driving does not carry the same stigma as driving under the influence.
There Is No Mandatory Minimum Jail Sentence
All levels of DUI charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence. While lesser DUI convictions allow the judge to order house arrest as opposed to time in jail, there is still a minimum sentence of 15 to 30 days.
Negligent driving does not require house arrest or jail time. However, sentencing is up to the judge’s discretion. It is important to know that if your DUI charge is reduced to negligent driving, you may still be sentenced to serve 90 days or less in prison. A DUI defense lawyer may be able to negotiate community service in place of jail time.
Your License is Not Automatically Suspended
Unlike a misdemeanor DUI or reckless driving charge, your license is not automatically suspended. Generally, a gross misdemeanor conviction carries a license suspension of 30 to 90 days. However, negligent driving in the first degree is the lowest classification of an impaired driving charge and one step above a regular traffic infraction.
Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, your driver’s license may be subject to an administrative suspension in Washington State. DUI and reckless driving charges are criminal charges. An administrative court is separate and can suspend your license if you refused to take a breath test or had a BAC above the legal limit.
A Negligent Driving Conviction is Eligible to be Expunged
Like a reckless driving conviction, negligent driving in the first degree may be expunged. This is not a guarantee or right. Many judges will deny a motion to expunge a negligent driving conviction if it is the result of a reduced DUI charge.
A person may qualify for expungement if they meet the following conditions:
- They have not been convicted of any crime in any court
- There are no criminal charges pending
- They have never had another conviction expunged
- It has been 3 years since the completion of the imposed sentence
If the negligent driving conviction is the result of a reduced DUI charge, it must not be subject to be used as a prior offense should there be new DUI charges. In Washington, the court can use any impaired driving conviction within 10 years as a prior offense, including reckless driving and negligent driving. If you have recently had your DUI reduced to negligent driving in the first degree, you will need to wait ten years before you can qualify for expungement.
How Likely Is Jail Time For First DUI In Washington State?
Washington State has a minimum jail sentence for all DUI convictions. Even a first-time DUI offense has a minimum jail sentence of 24 to 48 hours. For example:
- If a driver has a BAC under 0.15%, the minimum sentence is 24 hours in jail
- If a driver has a BAC of 0.15% or higher, the minimum time in jail is 48 hours
In addition, if a driver refuses a chemical test, they must serve at least 48 hours in jail. Under special circumstances, an experienced DUI defense attorney may be able to negotiate house arrest in lieu of jail time. However, the mandatory minimum sentence for electronic home monitoring is 15 days.
How Do You Get A DUI Dismissed In Washington State?
Getting a DUI case dismissed in Washington State requires a highly skilled and knowledgeable lawyer. Driving under the influence is seriously penalized. According to recent drunk driving statistics:
- 10% of all criminal arrests are for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- 28% of all traffic fatalities are the result of drunk driving
- In Washington State, 32% of traffic deaths are due to alcohol-impaired drivers
As a result, the public is pushing for stricter enforcement of maximum penalties. Getting a DUI case dismissed depends heavily on the skill and experience of your DUI defense attorney in Washington State.
For example, some common defense strategies are based on:
- A lack of evidence by the prosecution
- Prosecutorial misconducts
- Constitutional violations
- Lapse in the statute of limitations
If a DUI case cannot be dismissed, there are other effective tactics to negotiate reduced charges. It is critical to schedule a consultation with Veitch Ault Defense to discuss the circumstances of your DUI case.