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Seattle DUI Attorney

If you're arrested in Seattle by a police officer for suspicion of DUI, you can expect to be transported to one of several precincts in the city for a breath test. If there is an accident, or if the officer suspects it's a drug-related DUI, or if you refuse the breath test and the officer obtains a warrant for a blood test, you will likely be taken to Harborview Medical Center for a blood draw.

Seattle Police Department DUI Arrests

A rarity in law enforcement, every Seattle Police patrol vehicle is equipped with an in-car video camera. Some officers even have body cameras.  There is also video in every precinct station where the breath test machine is situated. A request for either the in-car or precinct video is made directly through the City Attorney's office. It usually takes a few weeks for the copy to become available.  The BAC room video usually arrives first with a longer delay to obtain the in-car video.

There is a good chance you will be arrested by an officer on the SPD “DUI Squad.” These officers have received additional training in DUI detection and enforcement, including ARIDE (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement). Some officers of this squad are also trained as Drug Recognition Experts. It is common for a DUI Squad member to take over an investigation when an officer suspects a driver is impaired by either alcohol and/or drugs.

There are 7 elected judges on the Seattle Municipal Court:

  • The Honorable Faye Chess
  • The Honorable Willie Gregory (current presiding judge)
  • The Honorable Andrea Chin
  • The Honorable Anita Crawford-Willis
  • The Honorable Damon Shadid
  • The Honorable Catherine McDowall
  • The Honorable Adam Eisenberg

The City Attorney is Pete Holmes. Several attorneys work with the City Attorney's office in both the civil and criminal divisions. The criminal division is divided into two colored "teams" with a supervisor for each team.

Seattle DUI Court Process

There are five stages to the court process for a DUI case:  Arraignment, Pre-Trial Conference, Motions, Readiness Hearing and, in a small percentage of DUI cases, Trial. Below is a brief overview of each step:

1. Arraignment

After you're released, you will usually receive a citation with a notice of an arraignment a few business days later. Court is held weekdays at the Seattle Justice Center located at 600 5th Avenue in Seattle. (Seattle Justice Center Home Page)

The first appearance (arraignment) is usually held in Courtroom 1002 at 10am. On Saturdays, the first appearance is held across the street at the King County Jail and typically begins at 9am.

An arraignment is simply for the accused to enter a plea.

NOTE: No matter what, the plea should be "not guilty."

The judge will ask the prosecutor what types of "conditions of release" they are seeking. It is very common for the prosecutor to ask for very stringent conditions (even for first time offenders). This may include: bail, house arrest and/or an ignition interlock on any vehicle the accused operates. Judges at SMC have also placed people on much more restrictive (and costly) devices including SCRAM and Soberlink or might order the person to report several times per week to the probation department to provide a breath or urine test.  This is referred to as "day reporting."

As such, it is critical to speak with an attorney before the arraignment.  It is also a good idea to be prepared for the possibility of bail.  That means a person must either post cash (no check or credit card) that will be returned at the conclusion of the case assuming the person has not violated any conditions of release or failed to appear at any scheduled court hearing.  Alternatively, a person can make arrangements with a bail company who will be present at the hearing and will post a bond if bail is imposed by the judge.

The arraignment is short, typically two to three minutes. There is always a public defender to assist individuals who do not have a private attorney with them. For more information about the arraignment, you can reference a recent blog post.

2. Pre-Trial Conference (aka PTC)

The PTC is where negotiations occur between parties. This court hearing typically occurs either on Monday morning or afternoon, or Thursday morning.

One of three things can happen here:

  • A favorable offer has been extended by the prosecutor and the accused accepts it and resolves the case.
  • If discovery is not complete, or if more investigation is required, a request to continue the PTC in roughly 30 days will be made.
  • If discovery and the investigation is complete, and the parties are getting nowhere in their negotiations, the DUI lawyer can move the case forward by filing legal motions and setting the matter for a motion hearing.

In some courtrooms, a judge will grant a first or second continuance of a PTC "off the record" (meaning without actually having to stand before the judge).  Other judges require an actual motion to continue before the bench.  Also, it is common for there to be two or three PTC hearings before the case gets set for motions. One primary reason is that it typically takes between 4 to 6 weeks for the City to provide a copy of the officer's in-car video.  And there are many cases that are resolved at the PTC and thus ending the court proceedings.

3. Evidentiary Motions

The DUI attorney will have already filed their declaration and memorandum in support of motions, and this hearing is the first time the arresting officer will be in attendance.

This is not a trial to decide guilt or innocence. Instead, the judge will hear testimony followed by argument and decide on whether to grant or deny the defense's motions. Typical motions for a DUI charge include whether there was probable cause to stop/detain/arrest, the admissibility of the field tests, admissibility of custodial statements, whether the accused was deprived of his or her right to counsel, and whether the breath or blood test was administered according to statute and protocol.

Motions are generally heard on either Thursday oafternoon (depending on the courtroom). Because of congestion, it is common for the motions hearing to be scheduled a few months out.  Sometimes, a case is resolved prior to motions being heard. Other times, after the judge has made his or her ruling, a favorable offer can be extended to resolve the case.  

4. Readiness Hearing (aka RH)

This is the last hearing )before trial.

NOTE: If the accused had been present at all previous court appearances, their presence can be waived.

The RH always occurs on the master calendar (in courtroom 1003) on Friday mornings. A case can either be continued (due to witness availability), listed for "disposition" the following week as the parties have reached a resolutions, or listed "ready" for trial the following week. Typically, there are dozens of cases set on each RH calendar so the courtroom is usually very hectic.

5. Trial

Only a small percent of DUI and Physical Control cases in Seattle Municipal Court proceed to trial. In 2018, out of 1885 DUI and Physical Control cases, there were only 27 jury trials (and 56 judge trials). In the rare instance a case proceeds to trial, it usually lasts anywhere from two to four days, depending on the number of witnesses.

Seattle Municipal Court Statistics and Information

In 2018:

  • 1,885 DUI or Physical Control cases filed in the Seattle Municipal Court.
  • 836 Seattle DUI cases that resulted in a conviction.
  • 416 DUI cases that resulted in the case being resolved via an amendment to a lesser offense. (See 2019 SMC DUI Statistics). An amendment to a lesser offense occurs via plea negotiations between the prosecutor and defense attorney.)

The Seattle Municipal Court has updated their website extensively, providing those accused of a DUI access to information on their case, court date(s) and the assigned courtroom. The site is open to the public and can be found at: SMC Public Court Information.

Act Quickly to Speak with Seattle DUI Lawyer Aaron Wolff

You need to immediately speak with an experienced attorney after your DUI arrest.  In Seattle, your first court day (assuming it is a breath test case) is only a few business days after the incident.

It is very common for the City to request stringent conditions of release at your arraignment, even if this is your first offense.  This includes the possibility of bail, an ignition interlock device or a SCRAM bracelet.

For more information about the first appearance for DUI charge at Seattle Municipal Court, click here.

I've frequently appeared in Seattle Municipal Court for DUI and Physical Control cases and represented people accused of DUI before judges in each of the courtrooms.  My office is conveniently located just two blocks west of the courthouse.

I can be reached directly 7 days a week by calling 206-504-2500.

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