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Vancouver WA DUI Law Blog

What is Washington's Zero Tolerance Law?

Penalties for underage drinking can have a significant impact on the lives of young people in Washington. Parents and young people alike may wonder what Washington's Zero Tolerance Law is and what implications it presents for underage drivers.

The Zero Tolerance Law in Washington concerns underage drinking and driving. According to the law, drivers who are under 21 and have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of 0.02 to 0.07 may face losing their license for 90 days. The second time an underage driver measures a BAC of 0.02 to 0.07, the underage driver faces the loss of their license until they turn 21. Driving under the influence includes driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs as well.

Woman waits in Clark County jail following DUI charge

A woman from a community just north of Vancouver was recently arrested on suspicion of DUI. The woman allegedly crashed her car in Vancouver and her passenger was injured. The 25-year-old woman was driving northbound on the freeway when she allegedly lost control of her vehicle. The woman's vehicle struck an embankment as it was leaving the freeway, which allegedly caused the vehicle to roll before coming to rest on its side. The woman was taken to the Clark County jail and faces driving under the influence, reckless endangerment and third-degree driving without a license charges.

DUI charges are no laughing matter. Drivers facing the threat of DUI charges face significant potential consequences. When facing DUI charges, it is important to fully understand that different defense options may be available. Any individual charged with a crime has the right to defend against the charges. Because DUI cases involve criminal and administrative penalties, it is important to understand how to present a strong defense to each component of a DUI charge.

Driving while impaired remains a serious concern

Recent government studies reveal that while fewer individuals are drinking and driving, more are driving after using marijuana and other drugs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released two studies concerning impaired driving. One of the studies, the Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Abuse by Drivers, revealed that the number of drivers found with alcohol in their system was reduced by nearly one-third since 2007.

When examining statistics of driving under the influence, the same survey, conducted in 2013 and 2014, revealed that 22 percent of drivers tested positive for at least one drug that is considered to affect safety. Drugs that can impact safety include both illegal drugs and prescription drugs. Among drivers during weekend night hours, 15 percent tested positive for at least one illegal drug and 12.6 percent had marijuana in their systems which was a nearly 50 percent increase since 2007. Also among drivers during weekend night hours, 8 percent were found to have some alcohol in their system and 1.5 percent were found to be over the legal limit.

What are my options if my license is suspended?

If your driver's license has been suspended or revoked, you may wonder how you will get to important places such as work or school. The inability to drive to and from work or school can be a hardship which is why it is important to understand that drivers in Washington who have had their licenses suspended or revoked may have different options, depending on the circumstances, to allow them to drive during certain periods of time.

Drivers in Washington whose licenses have been suspended or revoked may receive an Occupational/ Restricted License (ORL). An ORL may allow the driver drive to drive for purposes including work; school; community service required by the court; substance abuse treatment; healthcare purposes; care-taking responsibilities; or applying for an apprenticeship or on-the-job training program. An ORL restricts the times of day the driver may drive, the days of the week the driver may drive and the vehicles and areas the driver may drive in. ORLs are generally referred to as hardship licenses and may not be available to individuals who have had their driver's license suspended because of a DUI.

Washington lawmakers consider lowering felony DUI standards

DUI charges can carry harsh penalties any individual accused of a drunk driving should be aware of. Washington state currently has the lowest felony DUI standards among the 45 states that currently have repeat DUI felony laws. Under the current law in Washington, individuals who have convictions for four DUIs in a 10-year period can receive a felony DUI charge on a following DUI charge. In neighboring states, a driver's third DUI can receive a felony DUI charge. Currently, lawmakers are considering making the fifth DUI conviction a felony. The change would mean lowering a felony DUI charge from the fifth DUI an individual receives to the fourth.

The proposed change in Washington has previously failed due to cost concerns related to imprisoning additional individuals convicted of felony drunk driving. One lawmaker noted that the change may require building an additional prison or bringing one that is not in service back into service. DUI charges carry significant, and increasing, penalties and consequences. Potential consequences can include a jail sentence, significant fines and a criminal record, among other significant consequences such as license revocation.

Understanding the accuracy of breath tests

Most drunk driving charges are typically based on a blood alcohol concentration test. There are a variety of brand names in the field of breathalyzer testing, however, it is important to keep in mind that breathalyzers do not test blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Testing blood alcohol concentration actually requires the analysis of a blood sample. BAC is estimated indirectly through the use of breathalyzer tests.

The different types of breathalyzer machines operate differently and larger machines typically tend to provide better results than smaller, hand-held, breathalyzer machines. In some states, data from hand-held machines may not be presented as reliable evidence in court. In addition, some states only use blood tests to protect the innocent and those wrongfully accused of a drunk driving crime.

What are potential drunk driving penalties in Washington?

Drunk driving can impact individuals who might not otherwise think of themselves as part of the criminal justice system. For this reason, you may wonder what the possible penalties for drunk driving in Washington are. In Washington, it is important to keep in mind that an individual can receive a DUI for either driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Penalties may be assigned based on arrest, conviction and following a DUI conviction. It is important to keep in mind that the administrative and criminal processes associated with a DUI charge are not the same.

In Washington, the legal limit is 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC), however, the harshness of the potential penalty may increase according to the BAC level. For many individuals, the most significant penalties that are possible following a DUI can include jail time and driver's license suspension or revocation, however, significant fines are also possible. Depending on the number of DUI offenses the accused individual has, a driver's license may be suspended for 90 days to four years. Options such as an ignition interlock device, however, may allow a driver to ability to drive during a license suspension or revocation period.

Why the administrative license hearing is important in DUI cases

One of the most significant consequences of drunk driving charges is the administrative penalties. Administrative penalties include the loss of a driver's license following a DUI charge or conviction. In addition to the inability to effectively get to and from the accused party's workplace and other activities, all of which a driver's license suspension or revocation may cause, it can also be a costly process, even if you are permitted to drive with an ignition interlock device. For those reasons, it is important to understand the administrative hearing process and be able to effectively and efficiently respond.

The administrative hearing process surrounding the license suspension and revocation process in Washington, though prompted by DUI charges, is separate from the criminal process. A party that has allegedly provided a breath sample above the legal limit or refused to take a breath test will automatically have their license suspended. To contest the license suspension, the party must request a hearing within 20 days of your arrest for DUI.

Washington Supreme Court gives man new DUI trial

While it may not always be something that is well understood, important safeguards exist within our criminal justice system to protect individuals accused of crimes. A new trial was recently granted to a man by the Washington State Supreme Court for driving under the influence. The ruling was based on the fact that during the man's trial, a State Patrol trooper stated the man was "absolutely" impaired following an alleged police chase through an Eastern Washington community. The trooper's opinion was only based on performance of the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. During the HGN test, a driver is asked to follow a pen or finger with their eyes.

There are three common field sobriety tests. The officer failed to perform any other field sobriety tests on the man other than the HGN test. In addition, no breath or blood test was conducted to determine intoxication. The Supreme Court ruled that the single test alone was not enough for the officer to offer expert testimony related to the man's impairment. There are many rules that exist as part of our criminal justice system to protect citizens and accused individuals.

Options following a DUI, including deferred prosecution

Drunk driving charges are unquestionably serious and may carry significant penalties that can disrupt any accused individual's daily life. In Clark County, different options may be available to those facing DUI charges in response to the charges. Individuals in Washington can face DUI charges for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs (including legal drugs) and prescriptions drugs.