Contact Us Today! 206-504-2500

Washington State DUI Process

Washington State DUI Process

What Happens When You Get a DUI 

Dealing with a DUI can happen to even the most cautious drivers. If you ever find yourself in this situation, understanding the DUI process in Washington State is crucial. Working with a local DUI lawyer can greatly improve your chances of achieving the best possible outcome. Whether you need a Seattle DUI attorney, Bellevue DUI attorney, or any other DUI lawyer in Washington State, seeking legal assistance can make a significant difference. 

The Initial Stop

The DUI process typically starts with a routine traffic stop. When a driver is pulled over for infractions like speeding, failing to signal, weaving, or having a broken taillight, the officer may notice alcohol on the driver's breath or detect other signs of intoxication such as slurred speech or watery eyes. In these instances, the officer proceeds with an investigation.

A DUI investigation typically begins with Voluntary Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). Common field sobriety tests include:

  • Walk and Turn
  • Rhomberg Balance Test
  • Standing On One Leg
  • Nystagmus Test
  • Finger to Nose

The officer may then seek a preliminary reading of the suspect's blood alcohol content by asking the driver to blow into a portable breath testing machine. At this point in the investigation, if based on the “totality of the evidence,” the officer believes  you're driving under the influence, they will make an DUI arrest.

DUI Arrest

If you are placed under arrest for DUI, you must be advised of your constitutional rights before the officer conducts any further interrogation. 

Following an arrest, you will usually undergo a breath test at the police station. 

If there is an accident that causes injury to the driver or if the person is deemed incapable of giving a breath test, authorities may take the driver to a hospital for a blood test. 

Following a DUI arrest, several scenarios can unfold:

  • You may be booked into jail or just released.
  • If arrested for DUI by certain police agencies -  Seattle included -  you will be given a DUI citation along with the date for a mandatory court appearance a few days later. 
  • Outside of Seattle, it is more common to not receive any information about a court date.
  • You may also be released but expected to show back up hours or days later for a first appearance, known as an arraignment.

The Booking

Following a DUI arrest, it is possible you will be booked into jail.  Following a conversation with a jail staff member a determination if you should have a bail set - and what that bail will be - will be made.  Many things can determine this, including your attitude towards the staff and the situation surrounding your DUI arrest. You can then expect to be searched, fingerprinted, questioned, photographed, and placed into a cell. You will also be given a phone call. You can speak with a bonding company in hopes to arrange a bail agreement, or speak with a friend/relative who can post a bail amount. 

You will be brought before a judicial officer (magistrate) within 24 hours if placed in custody following an arrest for DUI in Washington State.

Investigation Following DUI Arrest & Charging Decision

If you took a breath test, you will receive a ticket showing two results taken by the officer.

If you took a blood test, there will likely be a span of several months before those results are processed and released by the State Toxicology Lab.  In 2022, the Washington State Toxicology Labratory (WSTL), has a severe backup and usually takes between 6-12 months to issue blood test results.

There are other factors that may create delays, but you should expect that all evidence in your case has been collected by the end of your contact with the arresting officer.

Charging procedures vary across jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions swiftly file charges, either immediately or within a few days of the arrest. Others, such as King County, Snohomish County, and Pierce counties, file via investigation, meaning once you're released, a report is submitted to the prosecuting attorney's office and the local prosecutor files the charge at their discretion. 

If the prosecuting attorney office decides there is enough evidence for a DUI charge, a complaint is filed and the court will send a notice with the scheduled date of your first appearance.

Statute of limitations for DUI in Washington State

The statute of limitations (maximum time allowed between arrest date and filing of charges) for DUI in Washington is two years from the arrest date.  One of the biggest misconceptions is that if DUI charges are not brought immediately or shortly following the arrest, that you are in the clear. Delays in receiving a court date notification don't equate to dismissal of the charges.  

Most jurisdictions will file charges between one and six weeks of the arrest, but some take several months**. Recently, in some Snohomish County DUI cases, the prosecutor has waited close to TWO years to file charges.  A delayed notice of your court date does not mean the arrest is forgotten or dismissed. 

Civil & Criminal Nature of DUI in Washington State

There is also an administrative Department of Licensing process associated with receiving a DUI. The administrative action by the DOL is completely separate from the criminal case. It is considered "civil" in nature, while the court case is a "criminal" matter. Both matters are part of the DUI consequences, and need to be handled separately. See DOL Hearing Process. 

Speaking with a DUI attorney immediately can make the difference in your cases outcome. Detailing all important facts as soon as possible with a DUI lawyer will make the case going forward easier for both you and your attorney no matter the time frame.  In addition, the attorney can help lay out a game plan for things to get done right away that might benefit your case in the future.  The attorney will also be able to monitor the court system for charges.

The DUI Court Process

There are six critical stages to the criminal court process for DUI in Washington State. Some jurisdictions have a different process, but this is the likely path detailed below.  

If you have been accused of DUI in Washington State, it is in your best interest to have legal representation at every court appearance. If you do not have an attorney present at your first hearing (arraignment), some courts will provide you with a public defender to assist in understanding the nature of the charge, the accused right's in the process, and entering a plea. Without any doubt, if you are accused of DUI in Washington, you should always enter a plea of not guilty at the arraignment.

Step 1 – Arraignment - the first hearing

The first hearing following a DUI arrest is called an arraignment, at which point you must enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If placed in custody following an arrest for DUI in Washington, you will be brought before a judicial officer (magistrate) within 24 hours. If you are released, you may have a date already set for your arraignment. Otherwise, you receive a summons for your arraignment at a later date.  If you receive a summons, the court date is usually set two to three weeks out.

An arraignment is usually less than three minutes. Typically, the defendant will confirm their address, their name, their date of birth, whether they understand the nature of the charge, and then enter a plea.

At the arraignment, the court will determine the conditions of your release. Typical conditions of release include: law-abiding behavior, prohibition of alcohol or non-prescribed drug consumption, and a promise to appear at all future court dates.

For more severe cases, a judge may also order conditions such as the requirement to have an ignition interlock device installed on any vehicle you drive, electronic home monitoring (EHM), SCRAM alcohol monitoring device, or bail money. If a person has a prior DUI conviction (or a DUI charge amended to a lesser offense), the law requires an ignition interlock be installed.

When setting the conditions of release, the court considers many things, including whether there is any prior history, the BAC results (or refusal to take a breath test), and whether there were any aggravating factors (accident, passengers, etc.).

Step 2- Pre-trial Conference

A pre-trial conference is for negotiations between the prosecutor and defense. It may also postpone your trial date if there are issues with witness availability, attorney schedule conflicts, or if further negotiations are required. 

If negotiations go favorably, your attorney will describe any offer with you and discuss the potential benefits and/or ramifications. Accepting the offer may resolve the case without a trial. But if no continuances are necessary and there is no plea agreement, the judge will set your case for motions and/or trial. 

Step 3- Motions or Evidentiary Hearing

This is a substantive hearing where there are challenges to the case against you. The arresting officer is usually required to attend. Your DUI attorney will have the opportunity to question and cross-examine the officer and other witnesses for the prosecution. In addition, the defense can present their own testimony and evidence. 

At the end, both sides are allowed to present legal arguments in support of their position. 

Step 4- Readiness Hearing

The readiness hearing is usually a few days to a week before trial. The purpose of this hearing is for the defense and prosecution to discuss the case to see if there is a way of resolving the case short of trial. If there's no plea agreement, and both sides answer “ready” for trial, the judge will set the case for trial. In some instances, there may be issues with witness or lawyer availability, or other cases that take precedence and the case might be set out in a month or two.

Step 5- The Trial

You have two options if you're facing a trial: You can either choose a trial by jury (six jurors) or simply have a bench trial which means that only the Judge decides your case. Depending on your circumstances, you may decide that a bench trial is preferred over having a jury decide on the issues of facts in your case. It is important to obtain the best DUI lawyer for trial, as they will instruct you on the pros and cons of every option as it pertains to your specific case. 

DUI trials typically take anywhere from a day to a week depending on the amount of evidence and witnesses. 

For a person to be convicted by a jury for DUI, it must be a unanimous verdict.  For misdemeanor DUI's in Washington, the jury consists of 6 people.

Step 6- Sentencing

If convicted, or if you accept a reduced charge, you will then be sentenced by the Judge. At the time of sentencing your attorney will speak, and you will be afforded the constitutional right to address the court. You should only address the court yourself if your attorney believes it could positively influence the Judge's sentencing decision. There are serious DUI penalties that can be imposed, so it is crucial to have legal representation at every stage of the process.

It should be noted that this description is a broad definition of how most jurisdictions work in Washington state. In order to best understand the sequence of a particular case, a person accused of DUI should consult with a Seattle DUI lawyer, Bellevue DUI lawyer, or other DUI lawyer local to your location.

Whether this is your first DUI defense, or you are facing more serious DUI consequences, I am available 24/7 to help at:

Personalized and Prompt Attention

I pride myself in giving personalized and prompt attention to your case.

The Wolff Defense Difference

Experience. Passion. Innovation. Please contact us immediately for a free initial consultation.