Washington DUI Law

Read about Washington DUI law and the consequences of a conviction.

In Washington, you can get a DUI (driving under the influence) if you drive or are in actual physical control of a vehicle while:

  • as the result of ingesting drugs or alcohol, your “ability to drive a motor vehicle is lessened in any appreciable degree”
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater (often called a “per se” DUI), or
  • having a concentration of five nanograms or more of THC (the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) per milliliter of blood (sometimes called a “per se marijuana” DUI).

(Read about how legalization of marijuana affected Washington DUI law.)

And, like all other states, Washington has “implied consent” laws that generally require all motorists lawfully arrested for driving under the influence to submit to a breath test (or a blood test if police have a search warrant) for the purpose of determining the amount of alcohol and/or drugs in their system.

Below you’ll find more about Washington DUI law and some of the possible penalties for refusing a breath or blood test and DUI convictions.

What Are the Consequences of Refusing to Take a Chemical Test?

Here are the consequences for refusing a breath or blood test where an officer has appropriately requested that you do so:

 

First Offense

Second Offense

Third Offense

One-year license suspension

Two-year license suspension if the driver had at least one prior refusal or DUI-related suspension within the past seven years

Two-year license suspension if the driver had at least one prior refusal or DUI-related suspension within the past seven years

 

When Are Police Supposed to Measure Your BAC?

To be convicted of a per se or per se marijuana DUI in Washington, the prosecution must prove your alcohol or THC level was above the legal limit within two hours of driving. However, a breath or blood test conducted outside the two-hour window might still be admissible in court as proof that the driver’s alcohol or marijuana concentration was above the limit at the relevant time.

Example: Officer Johnson pulls Sam over for swerving across three lanes. Once at Sam’s window, Officer Johnson smells marijuana and sees that Sam’s eyes are bright red. Officer Johnson arrests Sam for driving under the influence of marijuana. There’s a delay in getting a warrant, so Sam’s blood isn’t tested until two-and-a-half hours after he was pulled over. The blood test, however, shows a THC concentration of ten nanograms per milliliter of blood—double the legal limit. Although the test was conducted outside the two-hour window, the prosecution can use the test results to argue that Sam’s THC concentration must have been above the legal limit within two hours of driving.

But what if a motorist—whose alcohol or THC level wasn’t above the legal limit while driving—consumes alcohol or marijuana within two hours of getting out of the car? Can the person be convicted of a DUI even though there was no actual driving while under the influence? To address the situation where a driver becomes impaired after driving, Washington law provides an “affirmative defense”: A driver whose alcohol or THC level was above the legal limit within two hours of driving can still evade conviction by convincing the judge or jury that the illegal level was due to post-driving consumption.   

What’s the Maximum BAC/THC Concentration for Underage Drivers in Washington?

In Washington, it’s illegal for underage motorists (those under 21 years old) to drive with a BAC of .02% or more. Washington law also prohibits underage motorists from driving with any concentration of THC in their system.

What Are the Minimum Jail Times for a DUI in Washington?

Here are the minimum jail sentences for a first, second, and third DUI conviction in Washington:

 

First Offense

Second Offense

Third Offense

One day jail, 15 days electronic home monitoring (EHM), or 30 days in a “24/7 Sobriety Program”  (if BAC is less than .15%); two days jail, 30 days EHM, or 120 days in a 24/7 program (if BAC is .15% or greater or driver refused to submit to a breath or blood test)

30 days jail (if BAC is less than .15%); 45 days jail (if BAC is .15% or greater or driver refused to submit to a breath or blood test)

90 days jail (if BAC is less than .15%); 120 days jail (if BAC is .15% or greater or driver refused to submit to a breath or blood test)

 

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?

Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

How Long will Prior DUI Convictions Remain Relevant for Sentencing Purposes in Washington?

For most purposes—including determining the minimum jail and license suspension times—a Washington DUI will be considered a second or subsequent offense if you have prior DUI convictions that occurred within the past seven years. On a fifth or subsequent DUI, however, all priors within the past ten years will count.

Can a DUI Be “Pleaded Down” to a "Wet Reckless" in Washington?

If you’re charged with a DUI in Washington, "plea bargaining" for a lesser charge is possible. The term “wet reckless” refers to a plea bargain where a DUI is reduced to a reckless driving charge. In Washington, a wet reckless is called “negligent driving in the first degree.” (See Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 46.61.5249 (2016).)

Are Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDs) Required for DUI Convictions?

Generally, all DUI offenders are required to install ignition interlock devices (IIDs) on their vehicles. First offenders, for instance, must have IIDs for at least one year.

Talk to an Attorney

Washington DUI law is complicated and the consequences of a conviction are serious. If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence, get in contact with an experienced DUI lawyer in your area. A good DUI attorney should be able to explain how the law applies to the facts of your case.

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