The Immediate Consequences
Driving While Under the Influence or DUI is a unique offense under Washington law as it encompasses two distinct phases: a criminal case, held in a court of law with a judge, jury and prosecutor, and an administrative case handled directly with the Washington State Department of Licensing, or D.O.L. These two cases are initiated in different ways as well. The criminal side of the DUI begins with a court date that you either receive from the officer at the time of your DUI arrest—an increasingly rare occurrence—or that you receive in the mail from the court. For most DUI criminal cases there are no immediate, time sensitive tasks you need to attend to prior to going to court except for the all-important decision of which attorney will represent you. The administrative case with the D.O.L. requires you to take the first step to try to keep your license or privilege to drive. If you have a DUI you need to be proactive in this regard and actually request a hearing with the D.O.L. to try to keep your license.
You should have received a form from the arresting officer, a Department of Licensing “Request for a DUI Hearing.” You must get this completed form postmarked to the D.O.L. within 20 days of your arrest or you will automatically lose your license. If, at the time of your DUI arrest, the officer did not give you a form to request such a hearing, you can print one here . Please contact my office to help determine whether or not you should request a DOL hearing if you did not receive this form from the officer. If you fail to request this hearing with the D.O.L. it is almost certain that you will automatically lose your privilege to drive and your license will be suspended.
In the past the arresting officer would most likely have punched your driver's license at the time of your DUI arrest, assuming you had a valid license on you at the time. This is no longer the practice and you will keep your license “as is” following your arrest. Your license, and the privilege to drive in Washington State that it represents, is not automatically suspended or revoked by the fact of your address. It may be suspended later pending the outcome of your administrative hearing with the D.O.L. and your criminal case in court. So it is imperative that you take the necessary steps to protect your license and defend yourself in both of these proceedings.
The Washington State Department of Licensing
Your administrative hearing with the D.O.L. will almost always take place over the telephone between your attorney and a hearing officer appointed by the D.O.L. Some hearings may be done in person with the hearing officer but this is the exception rather than the rule; they will usually be administered over the phone between your attorney and the hearing officer assigned by the D.O.L. to adjudicate your case. Depending on the facts and circumstances of your case you may play an active role in this hearing through either testifying—by phone—or through a sworn affidavit. Police officers, factual witnesses or expert witnesses may be subpoenaed to testify when needed depending on the facts of your particular case.
Under most circumstances, the DOL must afford you the right to this hearing within 60 days of the date of your DUI arrest. For better or worse this process is a very rigid one. When deciding your matter the Washington State Department of Licensing hearing examiner is restricted to very specific legal issues. They do not deviate from them and will not consider outside factors. Whether or not you drive for a living or if you have to pick up your kids from daycare plays no role in the hearing examiner's final decision. In order to succeed at this hearing the arguments for the defense need to be framed within these specific legal issues.
The amount of time that you can lose your license or privilege to drive through this hearing is determined by reference to two standards: 1) whether or not you have had prior administrative sanctions within the last seven years, and 2) whether or not you took the breath test. The Washington State Department of Licensing hearing examiner will not add to the suspension based on your facts nor will they reduce it. This is an all or nothing result: you will either suffer the suspension or you will not.
Although you may represent yourself at the DOL hearing your likelihood of success is not very high if you don't present the proper legal arguments. In most cases, the hearing examiner will take the arguments under advisement at the conclusion of your hearing. Depending on the individual hearing examiner you will receive a written ruling in the mail within a few weeks but usually no longer than 30 days. If you are notified in the written ruling that the administrative action has been cancelled then you have won the DOL hearing. You can then go to any local DOL field office with the ruling and obtain a new license. If your license is suspended by the DOL then the suspension will usually begin within a few days of receiving the letter.
Unless you are eligible to drive with a temporary license during this time, and until you obtain the proper requirements and documentation, do not drive. Your attorney will help you navigate through all of the DOL consequences and procedures in much greater detail.
The Criminal Court
The criminal court process for a Washington State DUI involves many different stages.
The arraignment hearing is mandatory in the State of Washington for DUI cases and it cannot be waived; this means that your presence is required. Your arraignment date will be given on your citation either at the time of your DUI arrest or delivered later by mail from the court in the form of a summons. It will most likely be the latter and you will receive the summons directly from the court and not from the officer at the time of your DUI arrest. The arraignment hearing is largely procedural and serves as the beginning of the criminal process. It is held to advise the accused person of the charge or charges against them and to allow them to enter plea. The defendant is also advised in writing of their rights in a criminal prosecution. The arraignment in a DUI case is also the opportunity for the Court to set any conditions of release pending the outcome of the proceedings. These can range from minimal—notify the court of any address changes, have no criminal law violations, do not drive after consuming alcohol—to intensive and costly: do not consume any alcohol or non-prescribed drugs, do not drive without an Ignition Interlock Device, post an amount of bail. It is vitally important to retain counsel at the earliest possible opportunity so that your attorney can advise you prior to the arraignment about what to expect and how to avoid or reduce the more cumbersome conditions of release. Also, your attorney will appear with you at the arraignment to make sure that all of your rights are protected. Finally, the next appearance date, the pretrial hearing, will be set at this time.
Your first pretrial hearing will usually occur 30 to 45 days after your arraignment. You may have one or more pretrial hearings; this hearing is often rescheduled to a later date or “continued” in order to pursue further investigation or negotiation. In between the arraignment and the first pretrial hearing your attorney will usually obtain the police reports from the prosecutor's office, begin to develop your legal strategy, go over all of these materials with you, and contact the prosecutor about your individual case and circumstances. These conversations with the prosecutor usually carry over to the pretrial hearing. This contact between your attorney and the prosecutor is a routine negotiation that happens to at least some extent in every case. It does not get revealed to the judge or a jury (if your case goes to trial) and cannot be used to your prejudice. If the parties can come to a favorable resolution that you are satisfied with then your case may be resolved at this stage. If no resolution can be reached then it is at the pretrial hearing that your case will be set for motions and/or trial.
If your attorney and the prosecutor cannot reach an acceptable resolution to your case at the pretrial hearing then your case is on the litigation track for ultimate trial by jury. The first step of this process is to file pretrial motions to request the judge to suppress various pieces of evidence against you. If the motions are successful then you and your attorney may be in a better position to either negotiate your case further with the prosecutor to an acceptable resolution or to be victorious at a trial on the merits. There are also certain circumstances where motions could result in your criminal case being dismissed by the judge.
In some courts, the readiness hearing and pretrial hearing are the same hearing. The readiness hearing is the point where negotiations have ended and there is no acceptable resolution in your case; the two parties have to answer whether or not they are ready to proceed to trial.
You have the absolute right to a jury trial for any criminal charge, including DUI. This is a constitutional right and no one can take this right from you. It is also your ultimate leverage with the prosecutor's office: if they do not agree to a favorable outcome you will force them to spend the time and resources proving their case before a jury. If you decide to have your case tried by a jury that group will be made up of six of your peers. You do have the right to "waive" your right to a jury trial and have your trial conducted before the judge alone. This is called a bench trial where the judge regulates the course of the trial and is the ultimate decider of fact; he or she functions as a jury of one. Although unlikely, the prosecutor could request a full jury trial over your request for a bench trial. This is allowed because both sides—prosecution and defense—have the right to a jury trial in the State of Washington. A jury trial for a Washington State DUI will usually last 1 to 3 days.
If you agree with the resolution that your attorney has negotiated for your case then you will enter into a plea of guilty to the reduced charge that has been agreed. This is called a plea bargain. When you enter into this plea bargain you give up very important constitutional rights such as the right to a trial, to have that trial within a certain timeframe, the right to cross exam witnesses, the right to testify under oath, the right to appeal a verdict of guilty, etc. It is extremely important that you are sure of your decision. Once you enter into the plea and the judge accepts it you cannot change your mind. Your attorney should also give you an opinion of the plea deal when asked.
If you enter into a plea of guilty or are found guilty after a trial the judge will impose sentence against you. This sentence will vary depending upon the plea bargain that you entered into, the recommendations made by the prosecutor, any prior convictions that you may have and so on. The penalties can include jail time, electronic home monitoring, community service, work crew, fines and assessments, restitution, the loss of your driving privileges, the installation of an ignition interlock device, obtaining an alcohol evaluation and follow-up treatment, attending a victim impact panel, etc. Your attorney will fully explain the likelihood of any of these penalties with regard to your particular case.