The crime of driving under the influence (DUI) is unique in that it carries mandatory minimum penalties for jail, financial penalties, alcohol/drug treatment, and driver's license suspension. Just being charged with a DUI in fact carries mandatory penalties. Even if a person is never convicted, being charged with a DUI results in an automatic suspension of a person's driver's license for a minimum of 90 days. While the most common alcohol related driving offense is DUI there are several other crimes which fall under the same umbrella for penalty purposes as a DUI including physical control, vehicular homicide and vehicular assault if alcohol is involved, and snowmobile DUI.
There are several new DUI related laws pending before the Washington State legislature this term. While it is still too early to determine what bills will turn into law, there is one thing that is clear, the legislature is looking to increase the penalties for DUI offenses. Of note is Senate Bill 5105 which unanimously passed the Washington Senate on April 3, 2015. The new bill's primary purpose is to increase the mandatory minimum penalties for anyone who has had more than one DUI within ten years. If passed, the changes would include making a fourth DUI or similar offense in ten years a felony; currently, a DUI or similar offense is not charged as a felony until the fifth offense.
While the stated focus of the bill is crack down on repeat offenders, there are other portions of the bill that will have an impact on any individual charged with a DUI offense. For example, the bill also seeks to increase the conviction fee for driving under the influence related offenses to $250 – this is in addition to the mandatory minimum fines resulting from a conviction. Most courts also impose costs and assessments which can substantially increase the cost of the conviction. The cost of a DUI conviction is further increased by other statutory requirements such as high risk auto insurance (also known as SR 22 insurance), ignition interlock device for a vehicle, alcohol assessment, and recommended treatment.
Another bill, House Bill 1276, which recently passed the House unanimously, seeks to change the requirements for a police officer to obtain a person's blood when they are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. Currently, a police officer must obtain a search warrant signed by a judge before having a suspect's blood drawn. Bill 1276 would make an exception to the warrant requirement so long as the officer can establish there are “exigent circumstances” – meaning concerns the evidence could be destroyed.
If enacted, this law could greatly expand a police officer's ability to obtain a person's blood without their consent. There are several issues with officers seeking to obtain an individual's blood rather than using the more standard breath test. Of primary concern for a lot of individuals is the increased privacy violation of seeking blood over breath. At best, the breath test provides an indication of a person's breath alcohol content. A blood test on the other hand contains much more information including other substances in the blood that the officer would have otherwise not have been aware of. Another concern for a blood draw, especially one that is not voluntary, is the increased physical trauma an individual goes through.
Because of the ever changing DUI laws it is imperative that anyone charged with a DUI related offense have competent counsel. Attorneys who defend DUIs have the responsibility to maintain an active knowledge of not only the new laws being voted on in the legislature but also the constantly changing case law handed down from various courts around the state.
At Stein, Lotzkar, & Starr, we have been defending DUI and other criminal offenses for more than two decades. Our team of attorneys is dedicated to representing our client's interests at all phases of prosecution including representation at Department of Licensing hearings. Contact our office today to set up an appointment to meet with one of our attorneys to discuss your case.