Physical Control vs. DUI: Differences Explained

Washington officials take driving under the influence (DUI) seriously. If you operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both, you can face severe penalties. There are also physical control laws in place in Washington, and violating these regulations can cause you to face the same charges for a DUI even if you are not driving a vehicle.

Veitch Ault Defense can get you up to speed on DUI and physical control laws in Washington. For more information, reach out to our law firm. We can connect you with an experienced DUI lawyer that can answer any questions you have regarding DUI and physical control laws. 

What Does Physical Control Mean?

In Washington, it is illegal to be in physical control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion. For example, you can be sitting in the passenger’s seat or backseat of a vehicle while intoxicated and face a physical control charge. This is due to the fact that you could begin driving the vehicle at any point, even if you are not behind the wheel at the time a police officer finds you intoxicated. 

There are many instances in which a police officer will issue a physical control charge in Washington. These include:

  • You are in the passenger seat of a motor vehicle and move into the driver’s seat to take control of the vehicle. 
  • You sit in the driver’s seat of the vehicle with the keys in the ignition. 
  • You are sitting on the side of the road in your vehicle since you ran out of gas or your vehicle broke down. 
  • You sleep in your car overnight. 
  • You sit in your vehicle as you try to sober up.   

In any of these instances, a police officer can test your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and determine if it meets or exceeds Washington’s legal limit. If the officer finds you are legally intoxicated, they will not necessarily charge you with a DUI. Rather, they can charge you on the grounds of physical control, and you can face penalties that are identical to those of a DUI. 

What Qualifies As a DUI?

For adults, they can be charged with a DUI in Washington if they meet or exceed the legal BAC limit of 0.08. Meanwhile, for minors, the legal BAC limit for a DUI charge is 0.02. You can also be charged with a DUI If a prosecutor can show that even a small amount of alcohol impairs your ability to drive safely. 

Along with driving under the influence of alcohol, using drugs can lead to a DUI charge. You can face a DUI charge for prescription or illegal drug use. A prosecutor may use a blood or field sobriety test to try to prove you were intoxicated when you were arrested for a drug-related DUI. 

At Veitch Ault Defense, we offer instant access to a team of DUI attorneys. If you have been charged with a DUI in Washington, let us know. We can take a look at your case and help you contest your DUI charge. 

What Are the Differences in Penalties for Physical Control vs DUI? 

The same minimum penalty applies for physical control and a DUI in Washington. For a first offense, you can receive a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail sentence that lasts up to 364 days. There is also a risk of having your driver’s license suspended for 90 days and requiring an ignition interlock device to be installed on your motor vehicle. 

Second- and third-offense physical control and DUI charges escalate. With a second conviction, you have to deal with a minimum jail sentence of 30 days or electronic home monitoring of 60 days. If you are convicted for a third time, there is a minimum jail sentence of 90 days or electronic home monitoring of 120 days. 

In terms of penalties, the physical control difference vs. DUI is minimal. If you face a physical control or DUI charge in Washington, it is crucial to hire an attorney to help you out. Your attorney can develop a legal strategy designed to get your charge reduced or dropped. 

What It Takes to Contest a Physical Control or DUI Charge in Washington

One of the best things you can do if you face a physical control or DUI charge in Washington is hire a lawyer. This allows you to work with an attorney that protects your legal rights. Your attorney makes no assumptions and instead, commits their undivided attention to ensuring you can achieve the optimal case result. 

There are several legal defenses your attorney may consider to dispute your physical control or DUI charge. In some instances, your attorney may be able to show that the results of a blood or field sobriety test are flawed. Your lawyer may also attempt to show that you were not legally intoxicated at the time you were charged. 

It can be challenging to contest a physical control or DUI charge. Your lawyer works in lockstep with you to analyze your legal options and help you identify the best way to dispute your charge. There can be times when your attorney may encourage you to pursue a plea bargain as well. 

When to Move Forward with a Plea Bargain After a Physical Control or DUI Charge

If the prosecution has a wealth of evidence against you, it may be difficult to get your physical control or DUI charge dismissed. At this point, your lawyer may propose a plea bargain. You can present a plea agreement to the prosecutor in which you accept a lesser charge in the hopes of avoiding a lengthy jail sentence or other significant penalties. 

Your lawyer can work with you to craft a plea agreement that lines up with a prosecutor’s best interests. At the same time, your attorney will make sure that any plea bargain you propose meets your expectations. If a fair plea agreement is presented to the prosecutor, you may be able to come to terms with the pact before your case goes to trial. 

Veitch Ault Defense can help you negotiate a plea agreement and resolve a physical control or DUI charge. To learn more or schedule a free consultation, please contact us today.  


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