Washington State DUI laws have gone through significant changes in recent years. Today, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol carries some of the strictest penalties in the country. In addition, Washington is poised to become the second state in the nation to drastically lower the legal blood alcohol concentration limit.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI in Washington State?
The penalties for driving under the influence are severe. Washington State imposes a minimum sentence for DUI convictions, even if it is a first offense.
Penalties for a First-Time DUI Offense
The penalties for a first-time DUI conviction carry mandatory minimum sentences, depending on blood alcohol concentration (BAC). For example, if your BAC is less than 0.15% the penalties involve:
- A fine between $990.50 and $5,000
- A minimum of 24 hours in jail or a maximum 364-day sentence
- A 90-day driver’s license suspension
A judge has some discretion with minimum jail sentences. For instance, a judge can order house arrest instead of time behind bars. The minimum sentence for house arrest is 15 days.
If the offender’s BAC is 0.15% or higher, or if the driver refused to submit to the test, the penalties increase:
- A fine between $1,245.50 and $5,000
- A minimum jail sentence of 48 hours up to 364 days
- 1-year driver’s license suspension (2 years if the offender refused to submit to a BAC test)
Again, a judge may opt to order house arrest in lieu of time in jail. The minimum house arrest sentence increases to 30 days for a higher BAC.
Penalties for a Second Offense
When a person receives a second offense for DUI within a 10-year period, the penalties escalate. For a BAC under 0.15%:
- The fines increase to $1,245.50 with a $5,000 maximum
- The minimum mandatory jail sentence is 30 days
- The maximum jail sentence remains 364 days
- The offender’s driver’s license is suspended for at least 2 years
Under a second DUI conviction, a judge may order 60 days or more house arrest in place of a jail sentence. However, judges tend to favor jail time as the frequency of DUIs increases.
If a person’s BAC is 0.15% or higher or they refused to submit to a breathalyzer or other BAC test, the following penalties will apply:
- A fine of $1,670.50 to $5,000
- A minimum jail sentence of 45 days, or at least 90 days under house arrest
- Suspended driver’s license for 900 days (3 years if BAC was refused)
In many cases, a judge may add mandatory treatment and sobriety program monitoring to deter future DUI offenses.
Penalties for a Third Offense
DUI penalties for a third offense within a 10-year period carry the same maximum jail sentence of 364 days and the same maximum fine of $5,000. However, the mandatory minimum penalties increase.
If BAC is less than 0.15%:
- At least 90 days in jail
- A minimum fine of $2,095.50
- 3-year suspended license
For a third offense, a judge still has the ability to order house arrest for 120 days or more. However, at least 8 days in jail must be served.
If BAC is 0.15% or higher, or if the offender refused a BAC test:
- A minimum of 120 days in prison
- A fine of $2,945.50 or more
- 4-year suspended license
In lieu of 120 days in jail, a judge may order at least 150 days under house arrest. The offender must serve 10 consecutive days in jail first.
The above DUI offenses are considered gross misdemeanors under RCW DUI (Revised Code of Washington). However, if someone is hurt or killed as a result of an impaired driver, the charges escalate to felonies. A felony DUI carries significantly harsher penalties.
What is The Most Common Sentence For A DUI?
There is no common sentence for a DUI in Washington State. Laws pertaining to driving under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances, and illegal drugs are complex and varied. In addition, there is added pressure on judges to take a harsher stance against drunk driving.
Why Judges May Order the Maximum DUI Sentence
According to a recent article, the dramatic increase in fatal DUI accidents has created a public outcry against drunk driving. In the last reporting year, 32% of fatal car accidents involved alcohol. To combat this worrying trend, state lawmakers are taking note of Utah’s revised BAC limits.
Utah passed a law that lowered the legal blood alcohol level. As a result, the state saw:
- A 10% decrease in serious injuries from traffic accidents within the first year
- A 20% decrease in all fatal traffic collisions
Taking inspiration from the dramatic results, Washington State lawmakers have proposed SB 5002-2023-24. The bill would lower the legal limit of BAC from 0.08% to 0.05% and go into effect within a year.
Everyone from the governor to the Washington State Patrol has voiced their support. As a result, prosecutors and judges are feeling pressure to combat drunk driving by imposing the maximum penalties possible for DUI offenses.
How Long Do You Lose Your License For a DUI in Washington?
All DUI convictions carry a driver’s license suspension penalty in Washington State. The length of the suspension is determined by several factors, including the severity of the DUI charge, blood alcohol level, and if the offender has any prior offenses.
If you have been arrested for a DUI, you could lose your license for 90 days. However, if you have a prior DUI conviction in the last 10 years, your license may be suspended for 2 years or more.
Fighting a DUI charge alone leaves you at the mercy of the prosecutor and judge. An experienced DUI defense lawyer in Washington State can help mitigate the damage.
For example, an attorney may be able to negotiate a reduced charge from a first-offense DUI down to a reckless driving charge. While both are considered gross misdemeanors, a driver’s license is only suspended for 30 days instead of 90 days.