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Washington State DUI Process

There are a lot of things that can lead to a DUI arrest: traffic infractions (speeding, failing to signal, or a broken tail light), an accident, or simply pulling over to change a tire.

If an officer stops you and suspects a DUI, they will usually administer field sobriety tests. If based on the “totality of the evidence,” they suspect you are driving under the influence, they will make an arrest.

NOTE: An individual must be advised of their constitutional rights after they are arrested and before the officer conducts any further interrogation.

Following an arrest, a suspect usually undergoes a breath test at the police station. If there is an accident that causes injury to the driver or if the person is deemed incapable of giving a breath test, authorities may take the driver to a hospital for a blood test. Then, many different things can happen.

  • You may be booked into jail or just released.
  • If arrested by certain police agencies like Seattle, you will be given a DUI citation along with the date for a mandatory court appearance a few days later.
  • Outside of Seattle, it is more common to not receive any information about a court date.
  • You may also be released but expected to show back up hours or days later for a first appearance, known as an arraignment.

The Booking Process (If not booked, proceed to Investigations Following Arrest)

It is possible that instead of being released, you will be booked into jail. A jail staff member, after speaking with you, will then determine if you should have a bail set and what that bail will be. Many things can determine this, including your attitude towards the staff and the situation. You can then expect to be searched, fingerprinted, questioned, photographed, and placed into a cell. You will also be given a phone call. You can speak with a bonding company in hopes to arrange a bail agreement, or speak with a friend/relative.

Investigations Following Arrest & Charging Decision

If you took a breath test, you will receive a ticket showing two results taken by the officer. If you took a blood test, there will likely be a span of several weeks before those results are processed and released by the State Toxicology Lab.

There are other factors that may create delays, but you should expect that all evidence in your case has been collected by the end of your contact with the arresting officer.

Some jurisdictions are quick to file criminal charges, immediately or within a few days after the arrest. Many others (such as King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties, and cities of Kirkland, Bellevue, and Redmond) file via investigation, meaning once you're released, a report is submitted to the prosecuting attorney's office.

If the office decides there is enough evidence for a charge of DUI, a complaint is filed and the court will send a notice with the scheduled date of your first appearance.

NOTE: The statute of limitations (maximum time allowed between arrest date and filing of charges) for DUI in Washington is two years.

Most jurisdictions will file charges between one and six weeks of the arrest, but some take several months. A delayed noticed of your court date does not mean the arrest has been forgotten or dismissed. Speaking with a DUI defense attorney immediately can make the difference in your case. Detailing all important facts as soon as possible will make the case going forward easier  for both you and your attorney no matter the timeframe.

The Criminal Process

NOTE: If you have been accused of DUI in Washington State, it is in your best interest to have legal representation at every court appearance. If you do not have an attorney present at your first hearing (arraignment), some courts will provide you with a public defender to assist in understanding the nature of the charge, the accused right's in the process and entering a plea. Without any doubt, if you are accused of DUI in Washington, you should always enter a plea of not guilty at the arraignment.

In most Washington State jurisdictions, there are five or six critical stages to the criminal process. Some jurisdictions have a different process, and the following information does not apply to every DUI in Washington State, but this is the likely path:

Step 1- Arraignment

The first hearing following a DUI arrest is called an arraignment. If placed in custody following an arrest for DUI in Washington, you will be brought before a judicial officer (magistrate) within 24 hours. If you are released, you may have a date already set for your arraignment. Otherwise, you receive a summons for your arraignment at a later date.

At the arraignment, the court will determine the conditions of your release. Typical conditions of release include: law abiding behavior, prohibition of alcohol or non-prescribed drug consumption, and a promise to appear at all future court dates. A judge may also order conditions such as the requirement to have an ignition interlock device installed on any vehicle you drive, electronic home monitoring (EHM) or bail money.

The court considers many things when setting the conditions of release, including whether there is any prior history, the BAC results (or refusal to take a breath test) and whether there were any aggravating factors (accident, passengers, etc.).

An arraignment is usually less than three minutes total. Typically, the defendant will confirm their address, their name, their date of birth, whether they understand the nature of the charge, and then enter a plea.

Step 2- Pre-trial Conference

A pre-trial conference is for negotiations between the prosecutor and defense. It may also postpone your trial date if there are issues with witness availability, attorney schedule conflicts or if further negotiations are required.

If negotiations go favorably, your attorney will describe any offer with you and discuss the potential benefits and/or ramifications. Accepting the offer may resolve the case without a trial. But if no continuances are necessary and there is no plea agreement, the judge will set your case for motions and/or trial.

Step 3- Motions or Evidentiary Hearing

This is a substantive hearing where there are challenges to the case against you. The arresting officer is usually required to attend. Your attorney will have the opportunity to question and cross-examine the officer and other witnesses for the prosecution. In addition, the defense can present their own testimony and evidence. At the end, both sides are allowed to present legal argument in support of their position.

Prior to this, the defense attorney will file legal motions to challenge key evidence such as the field tests, portable breath test, evidentiary breath or blood test, and statements made by the accused. This hearing usually centers around their admissibility. Another potential challenge is whether there was probable cause for the stop, detention, and arrest. Any unresolved discovery motions are also litigated at this hearing.

Step 4- Readiness Hearing

The readiness hearing is usually a few days to a week before trial. The purpose of this hearing is for the defense and prosecution to discuss the case to see if there is a way of resolving the case short of trial. If there's no plea agreement, and both sides answer “ready” for trial, the judge will set the case for trial.

4. The Trial

You have two options if you're facing a trial: You can either choose a trial by jury (six jurors) or simply have a bench trial which means that only the Judge decides your case. Depending on your circumstances, you may decide that a bench trial is preferred over having a jury decide on the issues of facts in your case. A seasoned law advocate can instruct you on the pros and cons of each as it pertains to your specific case.

5. Sentencing

If convicted, or you accept a reduced charge, you will then be sentenced by the Judge. You are afforded the constitutional right to address the court if you feel it could positively influence the Judge's sentencing decision.

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