There is often an outcry for harsher DUI laws. These outcries usually come right after a well publicized accident, a celebrity arrest (Justin Bieber …), or an otherwise public demonstration of the perils of driving under the influence. While these feelings are understandable, the reality is that Washington State has some of the strictest DUI laws in the nation. For example, DUI is one of the only misdemeanors in Washington State that has a mandatory jail sentence. This means that even if you have a completely clean criminal history, never even been arrested before, but are convicted of a first offense DUI, you will be sentence do jail time. As opposed to Assault in the fourth degree which has no mandatory jail time. There are many additional penalties for a DUI conviction that can significantly impact your life, school, and work.
Each year there is typically a bill that circulates the house and senate that aims to increase the penalty for DUI’s. This year, House Bill 2280 aims to increase the penalties of a felony DUI from a class C felony to a class B felony. This increase would effect prison time, offender score, and the fine amount able to be assessed. While it may be difficult to find any compassion for an individual that has been charged with a 5th DUI in 10 years, it is important to remember a few things. First, alcoholism (or other possible drug use) is a disease. Putting someone in prison for the symptom and not addressing the disease does not better the person nor society. Second, there is no requirement that any of the DUI convictions be for the same substance (alcohol, drug, or prescription) or have involved any aggravating factors (accident, passengers, high breath or blood test, etc.). We do not see this sort of escalation for similar misdemeanors such as assault 4, theft 3, or driving while license suspended. At this point in time, HB 2280 has passed both the house and the senate and is awaiting the Governors signature.
DUI’s have been singled out from the rest of our States misdemeanors for a number of reasons. The most often given is because someone could have been injured. Which is true. It is never a good idea, practice, or decision to drive while under the influence. However, my issues is with punishing someone for what could have, but did not, happen. Especially when there are strict laws that specifically address what could have happened (vehicular assault, vehicular homicide etc.). It becomes a discussion of the whether you should be punished for what could have happened rather than what actually happened. Current DUI law has acceleration clauses that make each additional DUI more penalized, has aggravating factors specifically addressed in the statute, and has mandatory jail and license suspensions. Perhaps the laws are strict enough and it is time to start focusing on the underlying issues for repeat DUI’s rather than just increasing the penalties.
If you or a loved one has been accused of a DUI (first offense or multiple offense), you need an experience DUI lawyer that knows the issues and is there to fight for you. Call the Law Firm of Lucas D. McWethy at 206-427-4901 to set up a free consultation. Serving those accused of criminal offenses in King county, Snohomish County, Skagit County, Island County, Pierce County and Whatcom County.