Many people arrested for a Washington State DUI have never been arrested before. It naturally triggers several emotions (fear, distress, shame, bewilderment, etc). It is very common when I meet with these people shortly after their Seattle DUI arrest they tell me that all they want to do is get this behind them and ask how long it will be before their nightmare is over. My answer is not what they want to hear because most Washington State DUI charges go on for several weeks or months (or in some rare situations, over a year). Here are some of the reasons for this lengthy period:
Delay in Filing: The statute of limitations (how long the government can take to formally charge the defendant) for a Washington State DUI is two years. Rarely is a DUI charged after a year, but it is very common for a person to wait several weeks or months. Some prosecutors charge their DUI cases right away, others wait and file via investigation. When a person is suspected of being under the influence of an intoxicating drug they are asked to provide a blood sample. If the person submits to the blood test, there is a delay in getting the blood to the labratory, having it analyzed and returned to the arresting officer before the report is submitted to the prosecutor
Generally speaking, it is a few weeks to a few months from an arrest for DUI until the prosecutor files charges. The one exception is a Seattle DUI arrest by a Seattle Police Officer as those cases are filed by the Seattle City Attorney's office within a few days after a DUI involving a breath test (For more information about Seattle Municipal Court DUI cases go to SMC page). For people arrested by a Trooper in King County, they will usually be booked into the King County Jail. When they are finally released from the jail, they will typically wait several weeks before the King County Prosecutor files charges.
Discovery Issues: Often times when a person is stopped the law enforcement officer has a recorder in his vehicle. Every Seattle DUI arrest by a Seattle Police Officer is audio and video recorded. Many police stations have video (with varying quality) in their stations and in the rooms where the BAC machine is located. Some DUI arrests have a recorded 911 call from a civilian witness. There are also may be notes from an attorney who spoke with the accused prior to the breath test at the station. The list of potential discovery issues is endless. Sometimes the prosecutor has all of these things available right away when the DUI charge is filed. Other times, there can be long waiting period working with multiple agencies to receive them.
An experienced Washington State DUI attorney knows that in order to present the best legal defense, he or she needs to have seen all of the evidence before formulating strategy for negotiations with the prosecutor as well as evidentiary motions and trial preparation. My personal practice is to make sure I have all of the information before engaging in negotiations with the prosecutor and drafting legal challenges to the government's case.
Unavailable Witnesses: Should a DUI case proceed to a motion hearing or trial, the government must produce witnesses. For motions, it is typically the arresting officer(s). For a judge or jury trial, it also includes any civilian witnesses. If there is a breath test, the prosecutor must also have the BAC technician (for the breath test instrument) and toxicologist (for the simulator solution) testify in an attempt to lay the foundation for the results to be admitted.
If any of these witnesses are unavailable, and the judge finds "good cause" for their inability to appear, then the hearing will likely be continued,
Courtroom Availability: Courts throughout Washington State have incurred massive cuts to their budget and have consolidated calendars and judicial positions. Many smaller cities do not have court on a daily basis; Instead is held on a weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly basis. It is typical to see multiple cases set for trial on the same date and in the same courtroom. Obviously, only one trial can occur in the courtroom at a time, so it is very common DUI trials get continued because the courts do not have a judge or courtroom to hear the case.
Above are just a few examples of why it takes so long to resolve a Washington State DUI case. I tell people that it typically takes anywhere from roughly 4 to 7 months following the first appearance before the DUI case is ultimately resolved. I have witnessed some cases being resolved in a shorter period (2 to 3 months) and others going on for over a year. While I certainly agree that a person's emotional state will be uplifted once they resolve their DUI case, that should not be a reason to rush to plead guilty.
Anyone arrested for a Washington State DUI should immediately consult with an experienced DUI lawyer who will explain the specific process for their DUI case. Once they have an attorney on board and working on the case, it usually lifts some of the emotional fear knowing they have their advocate in their corner and fighting to protect their interests.