In Washington state, a driver arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs, alcohol or a combination of both faces gross misdemeanor charges, but this will depend on the circumstances of the incident. In some cases, a first, second or third DUI offense can become a felony charge, particularly if it results in death or serious injury. A felony charge carries severe criminal penalties, including years in prison and several thousand dollars in fines, according to Washington State Legislature statute RCW Section 46.61.5055(14).
Washington State DUI Laws
RCW Section 46.61.502 forbids a person from operating or controlling a motor vehicle's mechanics while stationary or in motion if impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both. If a driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater within two hours of driving or THC (marijuana) concentration of at least 5.00, that person faces a Washington DUI arrest and possible conviction.
Depending on the driver's level of intoxication, the drunk driving penalties can decrease or increase. A lower THC concentration and BAC of under 0.15 percent carry lesser penalties than those with higher concentrations of intoxicants. Conversely, drivers with a BAC level of more than 0.15 percent and those who refuse to take a chemical test face more severe charges and penalties.
First-Time Offense Conviction and Penalties
A first DUI in Washington is considered a gross misdemeanor. A driver who has not had another DUI in the past seven years will face fines between $550 to $5,200, serve from one to 364 days of jail time, 15 days of electronic home monitoring (EHM) or 90 days in the state's sobriety program. The driver also faces both criminal and administrative license suspensions of 90 days.
Drivers with a BAC greater than 0.15 percent or those who refuse to submit to a chemical test face between two to 364 days in jail, fines of $700 to $5,200, 30 days of EHM or 120 days in the state's sobriety program. The driver also faces both a criminal and administrative license suspension of one year and, if convicted, must have an ignition interlock device (IID) placed in their vehicles for one year.
Second DUI Conviction and Penalties
A second DUI offense is also a gross misdemeanor under Washington DUI laws. A driver with a prior DUI in a period of less than seven years faces fines from $700 to $5,200, between 30 to 364 days in jail and 60 days of EHM. As an alternative to EHM, the court can order the offender to serve four days in jail and six months in the state's sobriety program. The driver also faces a two-year license suspension, both as a criminal and administrative penalty.
Second offenders who refuse chemical testing or have a BAC of 0.15 percent or more face fines from $950 to $5,200, between 45 to 364 days in jail and 90 days of EHM. The court can order the offender to serve six days in jail and six months in the state's sobriety program instead of electronic home monitoring. Other criminal penalties include a 900-day license suspension, mandatory attendance at a treatment program and/or vehicle seizure. Administrative penalties include a two-year driver's license revocation and, if convicted, the offender must drive with an IID installed in their vehicle for a minimum of five years.
Third DUI Conviction and Penalties
A third DUI offense is also a gross misdemeanor under Washington state law. A driver with two additional DUIs in less than seven years faces between 90 to 364 days in jail, 120 days of EHM, six months in the state's sobriety program, and fines between $1,000 to $5,000. The court may give the offender the option of serving eight additional days in jail instead of EHM. Penalties also include a three-year criminal license suspension and a two-year administrative license suspension.
If the offender refuses to take a chemical test or had a BAC level of .15 percent or more, the court will sentence them to $1,700 to $5,200 in fines, 120 to 364 days in jail, 150 days of EHM and six months in the state's sobriety program. Penalties also include a four-year criminal license suspension and a two-year administrative license suspension. If convicted, drivers must have IIDs installed on their vehicles for a minimum of 10 years.
What Elevates a DUI Offense to a Felony
The state of Washington has laws in place that will automatically change a gross misdemeanor DUI charge into a felony. A driver who has four or more DUIs within the previous 10 years faces a class C felony charge. Additionally, a driver convicted of vehicular assault faces a class C felony charge for any additional DUI arrests.
Fatalities can also bump a gross misdemeanor to a felony, particularly if the victim dies within three years of when the incident took place. When death occurs as a result of a driver's impairment, the charge becomes DUI vehicular homicide, which is a class A felony. The state considers substantial injury due to impaired driving as vehicular assault, defined as:
- Substantial, but temporary, loss or impairment of a body part, including an organ.
- Substantial, but temporary, disfigurement.
- A bone fracture.
Penalties for a Felony DUI Conviction
When sentencing a person charged with felony DUI, a judge calculates the offender's score based on various factors, such as the type and severity of the crime and the existence of prior convictions. The judge then aligns the score to a specific felony before assigning it to the offender. Additionally, a felony charge can not only mean years behind bars and substantial fines, but it will also create significant challenges for the offender in terms of employment, housing and securing loans.
According to RCW Section 9A.20.021, a person charged with a class C felony faces a prison sentence of up to five years, a $10,000 fine, or both. A person charged with a class B felony faces 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine, or both. Finally, a driver charged with a class A felony, which is the most severe level of felony, faces life imprisonment, a $50,000 fine, or both.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.