Seattle DUI Charges
An arrest for DUI is a humiliating and frightening experience that few imagined would ever happen to them. You have had your car impounded and you may have been booked into jail. You have been informed you have 20 days to request a hearing regarding the suspension of your license. This, unfortunately, is just the beginning of the process and consequences that can result from a Seattle DUI arrest. If you or someone you know has been arrested by the Seattle Police Department or charged with a DUI in the city of Seattle, it is critical that you obtain legal representation from an experienced Seattle DUI defense attorney as soon as possible. The penalties for a DUI conviction are increasingly harsh and include license suspension, jail time, fines and monetary fees, ignition interlock requirements, insurance requirements, and probation. There may be far-reaching consequences to your employment, immigration status, and freedom. See more about DUI Charges. You need answers, you need guidance, you need help. It is essential to immediately understand this process as the timelines to challenge and prevent the license suspension which follows an arrest are short. Having a basic understanding of what to expect when you are charged with a DUI in Seattle will give you both peace of mind and some leverage in your case.
It is possible to avoid or minimize some or all of the harsh consequences of a Seattle DUI arrest. Seattle DUI defense attorney Coleen St. Clair has the knowledge and experience to give you the best defense to your Seattle DUI charges.
A DUI investigation typically begins with a traffic stop. An officer may stop you for a simple infraction such as speeding, failure to use a turn signal, turning into a lane other the immediate lane on a turn, not having your headlights on during hours of darkness or violating any one of the many traffic rules. You might be stopped for a simple equipment violation such as a broken headlight or tail light or expired tabs. Another basis for a stop is if an arresting officer has a reasonable suspicion of engagement in criminal conduct. Reasonable suspicion is a belief that you are potentially driving under the influence based on observable behavior. For example, if you were consistently swerving in and out of your lane while driving your vehicle, and it caught the attention of an officer, this action alone, may cause an officer to reasonably suspect that you have been drinking and pull you over.
The circumstances surrounding a traffic stop are often a fruitful basis to challenge a DUI charge. If you can successfully challenge the basis for the stop the DUI can be dismissed. If there are even potential issues with the stop it will often lead to a reduction of the DUI charge in negotiations.
Field Sobriety Tests
Most often upon contact, an officer will advise you of the basis for the stop and begin asking you questions about where you are going, where you are coming from, have you been drinking and how much. A typical response to an officer's suspicions of a DUI during a stop is administering field sobriety tests. Endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, standardized field sobriety tests are frequently administered to suspected impaired drivers at traffic stops. The three tests that are routinely administered are the one-leg stand test, a walk and turn test, and a horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. In distinguished ways, each test challenges your balance, your reflexes, and your motor skills. Officers are also noting whether you follow their complicated series of instructions perfectly. They are attempting to gauge your divided attention skills and ability to follow directions.
Non-standardized field sobriety tests like a request to recite the alphabet, to count backward, or do other simple tasks may also be administered. Based on your performance on these tests, an officer will make a supposedly objective judgment (whether accurate or inaccurate) pertaining to whether or not you have been impaired by drugs or alcohol. These tests are not endorsed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.
All field sobriety tests are not scientific but based on judgment calls. Often these tests are not performed under particularly ideal circumstances based on the location of the stop. Traffic is often blowing by, it can be hard to hear what the officer is asking you to do, surfaces can be uneven, and your shoe wear may present significant challenges to performance. Police officers must also administer these tests strictly in accordance with the manual. If they are not administered properly or the officer made a bad call, these tests can be challenged before or at trial.
Portable Breath Test
While at the traffic stop and prior to a DUI arrest you may have been given a "portable breath test."A portable breath test is used at the scene to determine or enhance probable cause to arrest for DUI. It is used to provide the officer with immediate information about the quantity of alcohol in a person's blood within seconds. The completion of this test is simple. A suspected impaired driver blows into a small device for approximately four seconds. If the results reveal that a driver's blood alcohol level (BAC) is over the legal limit of 0.08%, an arrest will be made. While this roadside breath test is completely voluntary, there are no legal consequences for refusing it, and it is not admissible in court except to determine probable cause, often if you decline to provide a portable breath sample an arrest will be made anyway based upon an officers observations to that point and their opinion of impairment.
For an arrest to withstand judicial scrutiny, a more concrete standard of evidence must be utilized -- this standard is known as probable cause. Probable cause is established when the entirety of facts and circumstances displayed to an officer at the time of arrest would prompt a reasonably cautious person to believe that illegal activity is ensuing. Essentially, the establishment of probable cause requires more than a mere suspicion. Some examples of facts that constitute a finding of probable cause are the smell of alcohol or drugs in your vehicle or on your person, bloodshot eyes, the results provided by a portable breath test, or an admission of guilt that you had been drinking or using drugs prior to or at the time of an arrest.
Breath Test Following Arrest
Once arrested, you will be taken to one of a multitude of city precinct stations to be administered a breath and blood test. For blood testing for drugs, suspects undergo testing at the Harborview Medical Center. While you have a choice as to whether to submit to breath testing at the station, that choice has consequences. Providing a breath sample may result in a license suspension if your result is above the legal limit of .08. Refusing this test will result in a much longer license suspension.
Refusal & Its Consequences
A refusal to undergo testing is construed as a violation of the state's implied consent law. Every person who drives a vehicle in the state of Washington implicitly consents to provide a breath or blood sample during or after an arrest for a DUI. The consequences for a violation of the state's implied consent law consist of the suspension or revocation of an individual's license. This suspension applies simply upon the arrest. The consequence of a refusal once you have been charged may result in an even longer suspension. However, before your refusal is considered a violation, an officer is required to provide warnings as to the possible repercussions one could face for refusing to undergo testing. There are often significant issues involved in this process and the sufficiency of the advisement. It is important to consult an experienced attorney as mistakes can impact the strength of any case or prevent the consequences of any license suspension.
Washington DUI penalties are determined by the state's mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimums prohibit a judge from imposing penalties that are a lower degree of severity than the given penalty. The mandatory minimums that could potentially apply to your case are based on the circumstances of your case, such as the results of a breath test or the refusal of one or prior offenses. The following penalties could possibly be imposed for a DUI conviction:
- Requirement to attend drug or alcohol treatment programs
- SR-22 insurance
- Jail or imprisonment
- License suspension
- Ignition interlock requirements.
Department of Licensing
In addition to the penalties imposed by the criminal justice system, administrative corrective actions by the Department of Licensing (DOL) will also be implemented. These actions directly affect your driving privileges. Some administrative penalties that are imposed upon DUI drivers are:
- License suspension
- License revocation
- The implementation of an ignition interlock device
- SR 22 Insurance requirements.
The Court System
Depending on your DUI or DUI-related charge and the arresting officer, your case could end up in one of several different courts.
|Courts||Arresting Law Enforcement Agency||DUI Charge|
|Seattle Municipal Court
Judge Ed McKenna
600 5th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104
|Seattle City Police (possible DUI Squad)||Misdemeanor DUIs|
|King County District Court
Judge Donna Tucker
516 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104
|Washington State Patrol
King County Sheriff
|King County District Court
Judge Ketu Shah
8601 160th Ave. N.E.
Redmond, WA 98052
|Washington State Patrol
|King County District Court
Judge Bill Bowman
401 4th Ave N
Kent, WA 98032
|Washington State Patrol||Misdemeanor DUIs|
|Washington Superior Court
Judge Laura Inveen
516 3rd Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104
Your first court date is also dependent on the arresting law enforcement agency. For persons arrested by the Seattle police, you will be given the date of your first court hearing by the police officer upon your release. You will appear in Seattle Municipal Court within a few days of your arrest.
For persons arrested by a State trooper or the Sheriff`s Office, your first court date will be mailed to you. You will appear in one of the King County District Court divisions depending on location and the officer.
Court Process & Hearings
DUI cases are filed expeditiously in comparison to other charges, invoking the criminal process to commence almost immediately. Hiring an attorney prior to the initiation of the criminal process is essential. At your first appearance in front of a court, the city, the state, or the court may ask for or impose bail. The court will impose conditions on you regarding your driving and behavior. Standard conditions include: not driving without a valid license and insurance, not refusing a breath or blood test, not committing any new offense, keeping your address current, and attending all court hearings. Depending on other factors, including the level of your alcohol content, whether your case involved an accident, or any prior history, the court will consider more severe conditions such as setting bail, ignition interlock device on your vehicle, an alcohol monitoring device (SCRAM), or home detention. An attorney can attend the arraignment with you and can argue for your release if a prosecutor requests bail and potentially avoid these stricter conditions.
Seattle Municipal Court DUI
If you were arrested within the city of Seattle, by a City of Seattle police officer, your initial hearing, known as an "arraignment," will likely be scheduled at the Seattle Municipal Court, which is located at 600 Fifth Avenue in downtown Seattle. Custody arraignments are scheduled in the courtroom on the first floor of the King County Correctional Facility (Jail) 500 Fifth Avenue, one block south of the Seattle Municipal Court. The Seattle Municipal Court has seven judges that are elected to four-year terms. These judges currently are the Honorable. C. Kimi Kondo (Presiding), Willie J. Gregory, Anita Crawford-Willis, Adam Eisenberg, Edward McKenna, Damen Shadid and Faye Chess.
Prosecution of DUI cases in the city of Seattle is handled by the Seattle City Attorney's Office.
Seattle Municipal Court DUI's are typically charged immediately, usually by citation of the officer. Your arraignment will likely happen within 48 to 72 hours of your arrest. The Court at that time will place conditions on your release and may set bail. It is important to obtain an attorney for this process as soon as possible. A person accused of a Seattle DUI needs to act quickly after their arrest. It is very common for the City to request very stringent conditions of release at an arraignment (such as bail and/or an ignition interlock device) even on first offense cases. As such, it is very important for any person accused of a Seattle DUI to speak with an experienced attorney. Prosecution for a Seattle DUI is swift and harsh and you must have an experienced top Seattle DUI lawyer to assist you, protect your rights and resolve your case in the best way possible..
The Seattle Municipal Court takes a very aggressive stance on DUI and criminal matters. Both the prosecution and the court can be exceptionally harsh and you must take every step possible to protect your interests and obtain your best defense. In Seattle Municipal Court it is important to remember when you go to the court, your physical appearance and attire will matter, so dress appropriately. Be on time and always demonstrate the utmost respect to the judge. Be sure you do not discuss your case with anyone other than your attorney (or public defender if you have not yet retained counsel).
King County Court DUI
f you have been arrested by the Washington State patrol or a King County Sheriff's Officer for a DUI in the Seattle area, you case will likely be filed into one of the many King County District Courts. These DUI cases are handled by the King County Prosecutors Office. See King County DUI for more information regarding a DUI in the Seattle area.
In Seattle jurisdiction, there are six critical stages of the criminal process: (1) an arraignment, (2) the pre-trial hearing, (3) the motions & evidentiary hearings, (4) readiness hearings, (5) the trial, and (6) sentencing.
Arraignments for DUI charges in Seattle Municipal court will be scheduled within the first few days of an arrest. King County District Court arraignments typically occur weeks to even months from the arrest. During the typical arraignment, you (who will now be referred to as a “defendant”) will be called before a criminal court judge who will read your criminal charges, pose questions as to how you will plea to these charges, discuss conditions of release, and announce upcoming proceedings.
Negotiations between your Seattle DUI defense attorney and the prosecution will occur at a pre-trial hearing and at points between hearings. Negotiation outcomes come in various forms. Sometimes both parties will agree to a charge reduction or a dismissal, other times the prosecution may refuse to give an offer altogether.
Motions & Evidentiary Hearing
In DUI cases, the evidence collected by an arresting officer is pivotal. During the motions and evidentiary hearings stage, your Seattle DUI attorney will have the opportunity to challenge and highlight the discrepancies in this evidence. There are often numerous challenges that can be presented to supress evidence or result in dismissal.
A readiness hearing generally occurs up to a week prior to a trial date. This is the last opportunity for both parties to come to an agreement before a trial ensues. At these hearings, both parties will either set a new date for disposition or another motion, reschedule a trial date, or confirm the previously arranged trial date.
If you make it to the trial phrase, you must choose one of two options: a trial by jury or a bench trial. A trial by jury consists of six jurors who will hear the case, deliberate, and deliver a verdict. A bench trial will entail a verdict made at the discretion of the judge. A seasoned DUI defense attorney will be able to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of choosing either option based on the facts and circumstances of your case.
Trials typically proceed in the following order:
- Opening statements
- Witness testimony and cross-examination
- Closing arguments
- Deliberation and verdict
DUI Defenses & Strategies
An attorney's duty is to apply applicable defenses to your case. Affirmative defenses invalidate the main elements that constitute a DUI charge. If affirmative defenses can be compellingly proven by a defense attorney, your charges can be reduced or ultimately dismissed. The following defenses could be potentially used in your case.
You weren't intoxicated. At the crux of all drunk driving cases is the element of intoxication. Proving that some other factor was responsible for an arresting officer's perceived account of erratic driving, odd behavior during a stop, or the results of a portable breath test, is an affirmative defense. Perhaps you were so tired that you failed the standardized field tests, or perhaps you have a medical condition like diabetes or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that tricked the breathalyzer into measuring a higher BAC than you actually had.
There were constitutional issues. The action of an officer stopping someone in a vehicle on suspicion of a DUI implicates the Fourth Amendment. In order for an officer to stop your car, he or she must provide justifiable evidence for his or her reasonable suspicion and for a legal search and seizure. Issues involving the Fifth Amendment will also arise if you were questioned after being detained without being properly read your Miranda rights.
Mismanagement of field sobriety tests. Due to their subjective nature and room for error, various aspects of the administering of field sobriety tests are often challenged by criminal defense attorneys. Factors like your apparel during testing, the landscape in which the tests were taken, the instructions that were given, the experience of a police officer, and the climate can and will be scrutinized by a skilled criminal defense attorney.
Legal Assistance for the Seattle DUI Process
Seattle's DUI process is full of complexities and uncertainties. The only way to navigate through this process successfully is to retain an experienced and skilled Seattle DUI defense attorney. If you have been apprehended for a DUI in Seattle, contact Coleen St. Clair at St. Clair Law Offices either online or at (206) 578-2200.