The Skagit County DUI

One of the most common, and most misunderstood, criminal law violations is the DUI. Take a Skagit County DUI for example. Skagit County consists of many cities, including Mr. Vernon, Burlington, Sedro-Woolley, Anacortes, Concrete and more. If stopped in one of these cities, or on the highways in between, for a suspected DUI you are likely to find yourself facing very serious consequences. Consequences that require a Skagit County DUI lawyer to navigate.

If stopped for a suspected Skagit County DUI: First and foremost know that everything from when the Officer first identified you as a potential DUI while driving until the end of the contact will be aimed at gathering evidence against you. You cannot talk your way out of a DUI, but you can talk yourself into one. The determination of whether or not to arrest you will be based on the observations the Officer makes prior to and during their contact with you. By the time the Officer has contacted you, they have already noted your driving (swerving, slow to start, quick to start, speeding etc.) and your stopping sequence (slow to stop, hit the curb, used blinker etc.). The Officer may even have already formed the opinion that you are likely driving under the influence (which is the lens that the rest of your interaction will be viewed through).  If contacted by a Skagit County Officer for a suspected DUI, hand them your license/registration/insurance (which the Officer will note your proficiency at finding and removing, so keep them in an easily accessible area) and politely refuse to answer any questions. If the Officer asks for you to exit your vehicle, you must comply (and the Officer will observe your balance and proficiency at exiting you vehicle) but you do not have to engage in conversation nor perform field sobriety tests. These will only provide more evidence.

The Myth of the Field Sobriety Test: The field sobriety tests, FSTs, are typically a set of 3 tests that have been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to be used to determine if an individual has a blood alcohol content, BAC, above the legal limit. The science behind these tests is quite debatable, but for our purposes it is important to know that the test will only tell an Officer if an individual likely has a BAC over the legal limit, not if the Officer should release the individual. The three tests (the walk and turn, the one leg stand, and the HGN eye test) all have numerous observations that the Officer makes while having you perform the test (performed only once, so no practice, and typically in the middle of the night on the side of a busy road). I will use the walk and turn to illustrate the skewed nature of these tests. Each observation category only requires one mistake to be completely missed. For example, one observation would be whether the subject touched heel to toe on all 18 steps. If even one out of 18 is missed, the entire observation is missed. Similarly with stepping on the straight line (one misstep out of 18 is a fail). If 2 categories within the observation are missed then the entire test is failed and is an indicator of being over the legal limit. There are a total of 8 categories. These tests are incredibly easy to fail. Which is why most Skagit County DUI Lawyer will tell you to refuse to perform them. And yes you can refuse the FSTs. They are a voluntary test that will be used against you as evidence of intoxication. Some courts have allowed the refusal to perform as evidence of a “guilty mind,” however the evidence gathered by the FSTs is almost always worse then a theoretical guilty mind.

The Portable Breath Test: At the end of the FSTs, or toward the end of the contact, most Officers will request that you blow into their handheld portable breath test (PBT) device. Some use this if they have yet to decide if there is enough evidence to arrest you, others will simply use to strengthen the case they have already developed. Either way, this test is voluntary. There are no consequences attached to not taking it. It will require the Officer to make the arrest decision based on the evidence he has gathered up to that point. The PBT is notoriously inaccurate. So much so that it is only admissible in court to help bolster the Officers probable cause to arrest. It is not allowed at trial. So unless you have had absolutely no alcohol to drink, politely refuse the PBT when offered.

Arrested: Even with refusing the FSTs and the PBT, the Officer may still believe they have developed probable cause to arrest you for suspected DUI. The validity of that decision will be reviewed by your criminal defense attorney and the courts later. But at the time, the Officer has you in custody, is reading you your rights, and taking you back to the station. Do not waive any of your constitutional rights. You have been arrested, there is no talking your way out of it, but you can make things a whole lot worse. You have the right to remain silent and you should do so. You also have the right to an attorney, but you must request an attorney.  The Officer will then put you in contact with one of your choosing or a public defender. There you can discuss whether or not to provide a breath sample at the station. This is the breath test that has ramification, such as a license suspension if you refuse the test or blow over the legal limit. The decision to blow or not is very fact specific and you should talk with an attorney prior to giving a sample to decide what to do. Utilize this right and the additional time it will provide you.

Post Arrest: Depending on the severity of the DUI, your criminal history, arresting agency, and specific Officer, you may have been placed in Jail pending bail or released. Either way you will have a court hearing coming up very quickly, maybe even the next day. If you have any prior DUIs on your record (including priors that have been reduced to a lesser offense), the Skagit County District court will order that you place an ignition interlock device on your vehicle. The prosecutor may also be asking for additional penalties such as a sobriety testing device or bail. While these conditions are typically more severe when the offense is either extreme or there is a criminal history, I have seen very strict conditions placed on first time DUI charges. Having an DUI lawyer present at these hearings is essential to protecting your rights. The conditions may also be more specific depending on if this is charged as a Marijuana DUI, Alcohol DUI, Minor DUI, Physical Control DUI, or Drug DUI.

This is just a brief overview of the complexities of a Skagit County DUI charge. There are many other areas to navigate such as the department of licensing (which will separately suspend your license if not contested within 20 days of the arrest date), probation, treatment and more. If you or a loved one has been accused of a Skagit County DUI, misdemeanor, or felony, call The Law Firm of Lucas D. McWethy for a free consultation.