In every state it's considered a crime to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and penalties increase for repeat driving under the influence (DUI) offenders. That is, a first offense carries the least severe consequences, while second, third and subsequent offenses have more and stiffer sanctions. Any driver who has been stopped for a second DUI charge in Washington state will want to read up on second offense laws and the penalties that apply.
Driving Under the Influence in Washington State
Although all states have laws prohibiting driving under the influence, provisions and punishment for offenses vary. In Washington state, a person can be convicted of driving under the influence if their faculties are impaired by alcohol, marijuana and/or other drugs, whether legal or illegal, prescription or over-the counter. Just because the drugs are legal to use doesn't mean that it's legal to drive while taking them.
Under that provision, a driver can be charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence if police officers determine that they are impaired from observing their behavior inside and/or outside the car. But it's also possible to convict a driver under the Washington statutes if a breath test or chemical testing establishes that the driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level was 0.08 percent or higher. This is called a per se (in and of itself) DUI because no additional evidence is required to establish impairment.
A commercial driver can be convicted with a BAC of 0.04 percent or greater, while a driver under the age of 21 can get a driving violation for a BAC of 0.02 percent or above.
Second-Offense DUI in Washington
Just because a driver has been convicted of one DUI offense in Washington state doesn't automatically mean that the next one will be treated as a second-offense DUI. The state has a look-back period of seven years. If a driver arrested for a DUI has a prior conviction within the past seven years, the current DUI is treated as a second DUI. But if the first DUI arrest was more than seven years before the current arrest, the current DUI is treated as a first offense with fewer sanctions.
A second DUI is a misdemeanor in the state of Washington. Misdemeanors are the lesser types of crimes, while felonies are the more serious crimes and include acts like murder, assault and treason. A misdemeanor in Washington is defined as a crime that carries no more than one year in jail as the maximum potential imprisonment, so the most jail time a DUI offender could get for a second DUI would be one year.
Second-Offense DUI Administrative Penalties
The Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) plays a large role in DUI sanctions in the state. While the criminal case is handled in criminal court, the civil or administrative sanctions are handed out by the DOL. These can be significant, including suspending or revoking driver's licenses, and these penalties can occur well before the criminal DUI trial.
The DOL gets involved in a DUI case when a driver violates the implied consent provisions of Washington law. The statutes provide that anyone who drives on Washington public roads implicitly consents to take a chemical test if stopped for a DUI. If a driver refuses to take a breathalyzer test, it is a breach of implied consent laws, and the DOL revokes their driving license.
For a second offense, the revocation is for a period of three years for refusal to take the test. If the second-offense driver does take the test, but fails it – that is, if the test shows that the driver's BAC level was over the legal limit – the revocation period is for two years.
Washington DUI Administrative Penalties
These administrative penalties are automatic, and the license revocation or suspension automatically goes into effect on the 31st day after the arrest. A driver who believes that they have a good case can ask for an administrative hearing by making a written demand and paying the hearing fee within seven days from the arrest. If the driver wins the hearing, the suspension or revocation is cancelled.
However, in most cases, the driver will lose the hearing, and the penalty will be imposed. Note that these penalties are in addition to any criminal license suspension or revocation.
Second-Offense DUI Jail Sentences
The penalties for violating the DUI laws in Washington are set out in RCW Section 46.61.5055. If a driver is arrested for a Washington state DUI and they had been convicted of a prior DUI within seven years from the new DUI arrest, they will be charged with a second-offense DUI in Washington state, and second-offense DUI penalties will apply.
The first penalty, and the one drivers are most concerned about, is jail time. Even a DUI first offender in Washington gets a short period (24 hours) of jail time or a much longer period (30 days) of house arrest with electronic home monitoring. For a second offense, the court usually gives the driver a minimum sentence of 30 consecutive days, but the sentence can be for up to a year.
Alternatively, the court can assign the driver to four days in jail and 180 days of house arrest with electronic monitoring. Another alternative is to send the driver to jail for four days and assign them to a four-month sobriety program, the 24/7 sobriety program, where participants are checked at least twice a day for alcohol or drug use.
Second Offense DUI: Other Penalties
The mandatory minimum fine for a second offense DUI conviction is $1,195.50, but the court can assess a fine of up to $5,000. The driver must also pay all associated court costs. They will likely be given a period of supervised probation that begins when they are released from jail. That period is usually at least five years and can be conditioned on community service and/or attendance at substance abuse classes.
The court will also require the driver to undergo a DUI evaluation, and they may be required to attend a state-approved alcohol evaluation and treatment program. It may also order drug or alcohol counseling.
Ignition Interlock Devices
In addition, either the criminal court or the DOL can order that a second-offense driver install an ignition interlock device (IID) in every car they own or driver regularly. This is a type of breathalyzer device that is attached to the car by a court-approved IID provider. It prevents the car's engine from starting if the driver has alcohol on their breath.
The device also requires periodic retesting as the car is being driven over a period of time. The device sends reports to the IID provider if the driver fails a test or declines to retest when instructed to do so.
The IID term for a second offender is usually five years after their license is reinstated. That means they must pay initially to have the devices installed in their vehicles, then also pay for monthly maintenance for each machine during the five-year period.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.