If you have never been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs before, or it has been years since you were last involved with the courts, then you need to consider the current DUI court process and how to effectively deal with your situation. Any type of DUI offense in Washington needs to be taken seriously from the very beginning and you need to be prepared. One of the ways to do that is to review the Washington DUI court process. By understanding what is going to happen in the upcoming days and weeks, you can hopefully reduce its negative impact. You will also quickly see the benefit of working with a DUI attorney who can improve your chance of getting out of a DUI conviction or at least reduce the likelihood of a harsh outcome.
To learn more about the DUI court process in the Tacoma area, call The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC at (253) 375-8055 or use the online contact form to schedule a consultation.
The DUI Court Process in Washington
After a DUI arrest, you can generally expect a routine process:
- Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) tests: Upon your arrest, the officer will request that you submit to some type of a BAC test, such as an official breath test or a blood test. The officer may also seek a warrant to require you to provide a blood sample. If you refuse to submit to any of these tests, you will experience civil penalties, such as an automatic driver’s license suspension, and you could face criminal consequences as well. The results of a post-arrest BAC test may impact the charges prosecutors bring against you and can be used against you in court. You should speak with an attorney as soon as possible after your arrest to discuss submitting to or refusing a BAC test.
- An independent blood test: An officer is unlikely to tell you this, but in Washington, you have the right to request an independent blood test. You can ask the police to take you to a medical facility right away to have blood drawn for a test that will not be run by the law enforcement agency’s lab. However, the visit, blood draw, and lab test are performed at your own expense. If you are unsure of whether an independent blood test is good for your case, speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
- Release or jail: Following an arrest and BAC tests, an officer must determine whether to release you or book you into jail. If this is your first DUI and the situation is not egregious, you may be released to a friend or family member who can drive you home. However, if you have a history of DUIs, have a high BAC, caused an accident, or hurt anyone, then you will likely be booked into jail. You are also more likely to be held in jail if you are uncooperative with the police officer during or after the arrest.
- Arraignment: Your first appearance in court after a DUI arrest is your arraignment. It may take place the next day that court is in session after your arrest. If you were booked into jail, this is where you learn the conditions of your release, such as bail, electronic home monitoring, or an ignition interlock device. If you were released, your arraignment may be right away or within 30 days of the arrest. You must come back to court for it. At this hearing, you will also hear the official charges against you and must enter your initial plea. You should have a legal representative at this point. An experienced lawyer can help you receive minimal conditions for your release. If you have already gone through a DUI arraignment without a lawyer, now is the time to begin working with a defense attorney.
- Appealing the civil automatic license suspension: If your BAC was over the legal limit or you refused to submit to a BAC test, then the Washington Department of Licensing will automatically suspend your driver’s license for a period of time. This is a civil penalty and is entirely separate from the criminal court process. While your attorney defends you in criminal court, you also need your attorney to appeal your license suspension and try to help you keep your driving privileges for as long as possible.
- Pre-trial hearings: There are typically a few weeks between your arraignment and trial. During this time, your attorney will take a number of steps to help you avoid a harsh outcome to the DUI charges. Through pre-trial motions, your attorney can seek to exclude unlawfully obtained evidence, have the charges reduced, or have the charges dropped entirely. Pre-trial hearings are also opportunities for your lawyer to negotiate with prosecutors regarding diversion programs or deferred prosecution. Your case could be resolved and enable you to avoid a trial.
- Readiness hearing: There may be one final hearing to determine if there is any way to resolve the case without a full trial. If your lawyer and the prosecution are at an impasse, then the judge will set a date for your trial.
- Trial: If your case was not resolved already, your attorney will prepare for trial. During a trial, each side (yours and the prosecutions), will present evidence to the judge and jury. There are many potential defenses to DUI charges. Your lawyer will thoroughly review your case and determine the strongest possible defense in your situation. At the end of the trial, the judge or jury, depending on whether you had or waived a jury trial, will decide whether you are guilty or not guilty of a DUI.
- Sentencing: If you are found guilty, the next step is receiving your sentence. The judge will determine the penalty within the confines of the law. Washington law dictates minimum and maximum punishments for certain types and levels of crimes. Throughout your case, your attorney will have positioned your defense in a way to hopefully minimize any consequences upon conviction. Prior to sentencing, your attorney will again ask for leniency.
- Appeal: There are limited circumstances under which you can appeal your guilty verdict or sentencing. If you believe there was a mistake of law made during your first trial or that your rights were violated, you may be able to have a higher court review the previous decision.
Let an Attorney Help You
You may be an independent person and believe that you can tackle DUI charges yourself. However, when people decide to defend themselves against a DUI, it is often because they do not understand the severity of the potential consequences or the intricacies of the DUI court system. Handling a case in court is no simple matter and without legal experience, prosecutors will continuously have the upper hand. Instead of trying to play catch up, you can work with a knowledgeable and committed attorney who already knows the ins and outs of the DUI court system with experience defending people just like you.
For more information on how a lawyer can help after you are arrested for a DUI in the Tacoma area, call The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC at (253) 375-8055 today.