Repeat driving under the influence (DUI) offenders in Washington state quickly learn that the more violations a driver gets, the higher the penalties. Penalties – even those for a first offense – include jail time, probation, fines and loss of driving privileges. A third DUI conviction in Washington involves the same types of penalties but more: more jail time, a longer license suspension and bigger fines. Anyone with several driving under the influence convictions in Washington will want to get a complete understanding of Washington state DUI penalties for a third offense.
Driving Under the Influence in the State of Washington
A person can be arrested and charged for driving under the influence in Washington state. The term driving requires that the engine is on and the motor vehicle is moving. But a police officer can arrest a person who is under the influence if they are simply sitting in the driver's seat of a car. That's possible under a different part of the statute that makes it a crime to be in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence.
What does under the influence mean? Under the Washington DUI statute, a person can be convicted of a DUI charge without any chemical testing if the prosecution can show that the driver's faculties were significantly impaired by alcohol, marijuana or other drugs. Drugs, for the purposes of a DUI arrest, mean any drug that can impact the faculties of the driver, regardless of whether the substance is illegal, prescription or over-the-counter medication. Evidence for this type of a DUI includes testimony of law enforcement as to how the driver behaved while in, and also while outside of, the vehicle.
Per Se DUI Laws and Test Refusal
There are also two "per se" DUI violations in the Washington laws. It is a DUI under the statutes if a driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is 0.08 percent or more. Likewise, it is a DUI if a driver's THC (marijuana) concentration is 5.00 or more. Per se means "in and of itself," so if a driver's chemical test shows these levels, no further evidence is required to establish that the driver was under the influence.
The BAC level is usually established by use of a breath test, while the THC levels are usually shown in a blood test.
In Washington, like many other states, the legislature passed an implied consent law. It provides that, when an individual drives on public roads in the state, they implicitly consent to taking a chemical test if arrested for driving under the influence. If a person is stopped and taken in for a DUI, but refuses to take a chemical test, they are subject to administrative penalties from the Washington Department of Licensing.
If a driver is charged with a DUI in Washington and they have two prior DUI convictions on their record, the new offense may or may not be considered a third-offense DUI. Washington has a look-back period of seven years. That means that a person arrested in Washington today for a DUI would only be charged with a third DUI offense if the two prior convictions happened in the previous seven years.
If one of the prior offenses occurred more than seven years before the current arrest, the offense is charged as a second DUI offense. If both of the prior convictions occurred more than seven years before the current arrest, the offense is charged as a first offense.
Administrative Penalties for Third Offense
Administrative penalties for DUI offenses are handled by the state Department of Licensing (DOL). These are civil, as opposed to criminal, offenses, meaning that the DOL does not punish offenders with jail time. Usually the DOL sanctions drivers who violate the implied consent law by license suspension or revocation. These penalties are independent of criminal sanctions and apply regardless of whether the person is convicted in court of a DUI.
When a driver is arrested for a DUI in Washington and asked to take a chemical test, they either agree or refuse. If they agree and they fail the test – that is, the test shows that their BAC exceeds the legal limit – the DOL automatically suspends their driver's license for 90 days. The license suspension occurs 31 days after the arrest unless the driver files a notice of hearing quickly after the arrest. If they seek a hearing, they are permitted to argue their case before a hearing officer, but the driver wins only very rarely.
If the driver refuses to take the chemical test, the administrative penalty is license revocation rather than suspension. The revocation period for a third offense is three years. A fine will also be assessed against the driver. The same hearing rights apply as for failing the chemical test. Note that the driver's refusal to take the test can be used as evidence at their criminal trial.
Third Offense Criminal Sanctions
Criminal penalties for a DUI go up exponentially for a repeat offender. While a driver can can get one day (24 hours) in jail for a first conviction, when a third conviction rolls around, the mandatory minimum jail sentence is 90 days followed by supervised probation. The judge can sentence the third-time offender driver up to 364 days in jail.
A first offender does not get sentenced to any period of electronic home monitoring (although they can opt for 30 days of home monitoring in lieu of serving a day in jail). On the other hand, a third offender will be sentenced to 120 days of house confinement with monitoring.
How about fines? The mandatory minimum fine for a first-time offender is $990.50. A third-time offender will be fined at least $2.095.50. In addition, anyone who is convicted of a DUI in Washington is sent for substance abuse education classes, a victim impact panel and, sometimes, substance abuse treatment.
Ignition Interlock Devices
A driver convicted of a third offense will also be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in every car they own or use regularly. This device looks like a breathalyzer and it allows the car to start only when the driver blows into it and there is no alcohol on their breath. When the driver regains driving privileges, installation of an IID is mandatory.
Aggravating Circumstances for DUI
Some circumstances are considered aggravating and will increase the criminal penalties for third-time DUI offenders in Washington. One aggravating circumstance is refusal of chemical testing. Another is having a very high blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent or greater.
If the third offender refused chemical testing or had a high BAC level, the court can order up to $10,000 in fines, a mandatory minimum of 120 days in jail, six months in the 24/7 sobriety program that requires substance testing twice a day, and 150 days of house arrest.
In addition, the judge will sanction the driver with higher penalties if they were transporting a child under the age of 16 as a passenger in the DUI vehicle. A third offense involving a child passenger will increase jail time by 10 days and adds up to $5,000 of fines above and beyond the third-offense conviction penalty.
- Washington Laws: RCW Section 46.61.502 Driving Under the Influence
- Washington Laws: RCW Section 46.61.5055 Alcohol and Drug Violators – Penalty Schedule
- Washington DOL: Driving Under the Influence
- DUI Driving Law: Washington
- Seattle DUI: Washington State DUI Penalties
- Seattle DUI: Implied Consent Laws in Washington
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.