How to Beat a DUI in Washington State: A Guide for First-Time Offenders
Being charged with a DUI is one of the most common criminal offenses in the United States today. In Washington State alone, there are nearly 20,000 DUIs every year. Whether it’s you, a family member, or a friend, you need to know how to beat a DUI in Washington State.
What’s Considered a DUI in Washington?
Driving under the influence (DUI) is a criminal offense defined by Washington State law. There are two ways the state may prove DUI. The first is known as the per se rule. This is when a driver is arrested on suspicion of DUI and a blood or breath test shows that the driver has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% or greater.
The 0.08 rule has become standard throughout the United States, but it is important to understand that even without a blood or breath test, it is still possible to be charged – and even convicted – of a DUI. That is because the Washington statute provides that a person is also guilty of DUI if they drive a vehicle while “affected by” alcohol.
What does this mean in practice? There are situations where the state may not have a blood or breath test to use as evidence. When this occurs, the prosecution may still seek a conviction based on eyewitness testimony – often from the arresting officer – that shows the defendant was still “affected” by alcohol.
Also, while DUI is most commonly associated with alcohol intoxication, it also covers cannabis or drug use. It does not matter if the drug is legal (prescribed). For example, a person could be impaired through a prescription drug and still be charged. Similar to the 0.08 standard for alcohol, Washington State’s DUI law has a similar rule governing driving while under the influence of cannabis. Specifically, a person may be convicted if their THC concentration was 5.00 or higher based on a blood analysis taken within two hours of driving.
Odds of Beating DUI Charges in Washington State
TV shows often portray dramatic courtroom trials, but in reality, Washington State’s legal system is far more mundane. Only about 0.02% of DUI charges in this state even lead to a trial.
In 2021, there were roughly 19,000 DUI cases filed in Washington State, according to official statistics. Only 412 of those cases went to trial. And out of those 412, only 57 defendants were found “not guilty.”
That does not necessarily mean most people are convicted of DUI. About 6,900 (36%) of the cases cited above resulted in a DUI conviction. Some were dismissed outright. About 9,200 cases (48%) involved a reduction to a lesser charge, a far more common result.
Two examples of lesser charges in Washington State DUI cases are “reckless driving” and “negligent driving 1st Degree.” These carry less severe penalties than a DUI conviction. With a negligent driving conviction, for example, you do not face mandatory jail time or a suspension of your driver’s license.
Why would prosecutors even agree to reduce a DUI charge? If this is the first time you have been charged with a DUI and there are potential evidentiary issues, the state is more likely to agree to a reduction in charges rather than risk outright dismissal in court. A prosecutor would always prefer to walk away with some conviction rather than none.
Some of the Most Common Legal Defenses that can beat a DUI?
Beating a DUI can mean 1) getting the charges dropped, or 2) convincing the prosecutor to reduce the charge to something less serious.
There are a few different ways to pick apart a DUI case:
- Go after the basis for the traffic stop that led to the DUI charge in the first place.
- Challenge the admissibility of critical evidence.
Generally, the police cannot pull you over without reason. Unless the officer already has a warrant for your arrest, which is uncommon, a traffic stop is only constitutional if the officer forms “reasonable suspicion” that some “unlawful activity” has occurred, is about to happen, or is in process.
In simple terms, a police officer must have some basis to conclude that you may have violated the law before initiating a traffic stop. This can be something as simple as making an improper lane change. Whether or not you actually committed a traffic violation is not what matters. What counts is whether the officer or not had a “reasonable suspicion” that you committed a traffic violation.
Even under that broad standard, there are cases where Washington courts have found that officers lacked even a reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. If so, that renders any evidence of DUI gathered during that stop inadmissible in court. Put another way, even if the officer found proof of drunk driving after the fact that does not validate a traffic stop that was unlawful in the first place.
Another successful way to beat a DUI is to challenge the evidence gathered by the police, specifically the results of blood or breath tests used to establish a driver’s blood-alcohol content. There are specific rules and procedures the police must follow in administering such tests. The defendant can file a motion to suppress (declare inadmissible) any results obtained from an improperly administered test.
A defendant may also seek to suppress evidence if the police did not properly advise the defendant of their constitutional and legal rights beforehand. This can include a situation where a defendant does not speak English as their primary language, and they can show they did not understand the warnings.
Hire a DUI Lawyer Who Knows the System
A DUI arrest is a serious matter. A conviction can have serious, life-altering consequences for you and your family. Although beating a DUI outright may be challenging, it is not impossible. It is essential to understand that you do not have to deal with the legal system alone.
If you or a loved one have been charged with drunk driving and need to speak with a Washington DUI defense attorney, don’t delay. The sooner you start putting a defense strategy together, the better chance you have of avoiding a DUI conviction.