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Washington State DUI Laws and Charges

There are three statutes in Washington State that apply to most DUI cases filed each year. They are listed below. The first two apply to adult offenders, while a third statute applies separately to people under the age of 21. A child (even those under the age of 18) may (and usually, will) be charged under the adult statutes in certain circumstances.

If you have been charged with a DUI in Washington, it will most likely be classified as a “gross misdemeanor” which means the maximum punishment is 364 days in jail and a $5000.00 fine. However, should the DUI cause seriously bodily injury or death to another (vehiclular assault or vehicular homicide), or if you the accused has previously been convicted of vehicular assault or homicide, or if you have four priors within the past 10 years, it will be charged as a Class C Felony DUI.

The three relevant statutes are:

  1. 1. Driving Under the Influence

In Washington, under RCW 46.61.502, a person is guilty of DUI if they drove a vehicle:
  1. with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .08 or higher within two hours after driving; or
  2. with a blood THC level of 5 nanograms per millileter within two hours after driving; or
  3. while under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor or drugs; or
  4. while under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor and any drug.

NOTE: It is a defense, under all three statutes, if you can prove that alcohol or marijuana was consumed after driving but before a chemical test was administered.

It's important to know that “drugs” doesn't refer only to illegal narcotics. Medications that were prescribed or sold over-the-counter (depression medications, pain killers or sleep agents) can also create an intoxicating effect. Legally possessing the medication is no defense.

  1. 2. Physical Control of Vehicle Under the Influence

Under Washington DUI statute RCW 46.61.504, a person is guilty of DUI if they have actual physical control of a vehicle:
  1. and a BAC of .08 or higher within two hours after being in actual physical control; or
  2. while the person is under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor or any drug; or
  3. while the person is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor and any drug.

Actual physical control refers to situations where the car is not in motion, but capable of movement – such as when the keys are in the ignition and the car is parked.

NOTE: If the car has been moved safely off the roadway prior to being pursued by a law enforcement officer, a person will have an affirmative defense to the crime of physical control.

All violations of this statute are classified as gross misdemeanors unless the person is a juvenile, has four or more prior offenses within ten years, or if the person has been previously convicted of vehicular homicide while under the influence, vehicular assault while under the influence, or a comparable out-of-state offense. In such circumstances, the DUI may be charged as a Class C felony.

DUI and Physical Control, as gross misdemeanors, carry a maximum sentence of up to 364 days in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.


3. Driver Under Twenty-One Consuming Alcohol
Under RCW 46.61.503, a person is guilty of driving or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol if the person operates or is in actual physical control and:
  1. is under the age of twenty-one;
  2. has a BAC between .02 and .08

Driver Under Twenty-One Consuming Alcohol is considered a misdemeanor which carries a maximum sentence of up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

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