There are a lot of things that can lead to a DUI arrest: traffic infractions (speeding, failing to signal, or a broken tail light), an accident, or simply pulling over to change a tire.
If an officer stops you and suspects a DUI, they will usually administer Voluntary Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). If based on the “totality of the evidence,” they suspect you are driving under the influence, they will make an arrest.
NOTE: An individual must be advised of their constitutional rights after they are arrested and before the officer conducts any further interrogation.
Following an arrest, a suspect usually undergoes 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. Then, many different things can happen.
- You may be booked into jail or just released.
- If arrested by certain police agencies like Seattle for DUI, 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 Process (If not booked, proceed to Investigations Following Arrest)
It is possible that instead of being released, you will be booked into jail. A jail staff member, after speaking with you, will then determine if you should have a bail set and what that bail will be. Many things can determine this, including your attitude towards the staff and the situation. 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.
Investigations Following 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 test the blood.
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.
Some jurisdictions are quick to file criminal charges, immediately or within a few days after the arrest. Many others (such as King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties, and cities of Kirkland, Bellevue, and Redmond) 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 charge of DUI, a complaint is filed and the court will send a notice with the scheduled date of your first appearance.
NOTE: The statute of limitations (maximum time allowed between arrest date and filing of charges) for DUI in Washington is two years.
Most jurisdictions will file charges between one and six weeks of the arrest, but some take several months**. Recently, in Snohomish County 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. One of the biggest misconceptions is being people that if DUI charges are not brought immediately or shortly following the arrest, the are in the clear.
Speaking with a DUI defense attorney immediately can make the difference in your case. Detailing all important facts as soon as possible 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.
NOTE: COVID related delays has significantly affected this timeline, courts are attempting to work through this backlog of cases, but delays of multiple months to over a year are not uncommon.
The Criminal Process
NOTE: 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.
In most Washington State jurisdictions, there are five or six critical stages to the criminal process. Some jurisdictions have a different process, and the following information does not apply to every DUI in Washington State, but this is the likely path:
Step 1- Arraignment
The first hearing following a DUI arrest is called an arraignment. 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 set usually two to three weeks out.
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.).
An arraignment is usually less than three minutes total. 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.
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.
Some courts in King and Snohomish County allow the accused to appear through their attorney at the pre-trial conference eliminating the need for them to be present either in-person or virtually.
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 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 argument in support of their position.
Prior to this, the defense attorney will file legal motions to challenge key evidence such as the field tests, portable breath test, evidentiary breath or blood test, and statements made by the accused. This hearing usually centers around their admissibility. Another potential challenge is whether there was probable cause for the stop, detention, and arrest. Any unresolved discovery motions are also litigated at this hearing.
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 a month or two.
4. 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. A seasoned law advocate can instruct you on the pros and cons of each 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.
If convicted, or you accept a reduced charge, you will then be sentenced by the Judge. At the time of sentencing, the attorney will talk about you and then the driver afforded the constitutional right to address the court if they feel it could positively influence the Judge's sentencing decision.
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 immediately consult with an attorney.