Felony DUI Laws

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.

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Traffic Ticket Quota?

Do police officers have a quota for traffic tickets that must be issued each month? The average person would likely say yes. The average police officer would say no. The reality likely is somewhere in between. A quota is a very specific term, and as it is used, most police agencies will absolutely deny that their department has a quota for traffic tickets that must be issued. However, are there other incentives tied to the issuing of citations? As a traffic ticket lawyer in Snohomish, Skagit, and King county, I believe there is a distinct pressure on Officers to issue tickets when they otherwise would not.

A South Carolina lawmaker has proposed a bill that would address the quota system in all its forms. The allegation in South Carolina is that Officers are either required to, or otherwise encouraged to, cite a predetermined amount of people per day. This allegation is denied by the Sheriff, however a portion of the cities budget is based on predicted revenue from citation that have not yet been written. So in reality, there is a budgetary dependence on a predetermined amount of citations being issued. The new proposed bill would address the specific quota system and require that the budget only take into account money already collected, rather than predicted. This would in essence create a current hole in the budget for one year to determine that actual amount  received prior to spending it. You can see the full article hear: http://www.thestate.com/news/local/crime/article54185675.html

Similar allegations can be made here in Washington. Predicted income is often used to balance a budget. This nothing new. However, the difficulty comes when there is pressure for State agencies to meet their predicted income thresholds. Agency budgets get based on it, staffing is based on it, and sometimes there is federal money that is received based on its use toward a specific goal. If less infractions are written, staffing and budgets decrease as well. When more infractions are written we see increased patrols, more staffing, acknowledgement within the department for a job well done, and in some case it may be reflecting in performance evaluations. So while there may not be a specific Quota system that requires X amount of tickets be written per shift, there is certainly incentive to issues the tickets.

With the budget crisis still in full effect for many cities and counties, don’t expect to be let off with a warning. Have your insurance, registration and Driver’s License easily accessible and politely hand it to the Officer when requested. Do not admit to anything, speed relate or otherwise. A common questions an Officer will ask is, “do you know how fast you were going?” My suggestion is to either politely decline to answer or simply say that you are not aware. Anything you say can be used against you at an infraction hearing and often your own words can be the worst evidence against you. If you have been cited for a speeding ticket in Snohomish County, King County, Lynnwood, Everett, Monroe or another area in Western Washington, call the Law Firm of Lucas D. McWethy for a free consultation with a skilled traffic ticket lawyer. Or for more information visit my website at www.tickets-dismissed.com.

Drake Bell Arrested for DUI

Best known for his role on Nickelodeon’s “Drake and Josh,” Drake Bell was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Glendale on Monday night. After being stopped for alleged speeding and swerving, Drake Bell was arrested for DUI and posted $20,000 bail for his release.

Drake Bell is at the start of the criminal process that has entangled celebrities, politicians,  athletes, and the not so famous alike. Often the difference is the ability to immediately contact the best criminal defense lawyer. DUI law is both complex and confusing. When arrested for DUI you immediately find yourself caught up in the criminal justice system, often for the first time. Additionally, you may have a civil case pending against your license. The key to getting the best result is to have the help of a Lynnwood DUI Lawyer. I assist my clients in determining the best steps to move forward; including challenging the DOL, scheduling court dates, in depth case assessment, and aggressive DUI defense.

Had Drake Bell’s arrest been in a first offense DUI in Washington State, he would be looking at a mandatory minimum sentence of 1 to 2 days in jail (depending on his breath test), a 90 day to 1 year license suspension, a 1 year ignition interlock requirement,  and an alcohol and drug evaluation including compliance with any treatment recommendations. While Drake is innocent until proven guilty, there are often strict conditions of release placed on individuals accused of DUI. You should never appear in court with a criminal defense lawyer to represent you.

If you or a loved one has been accused of DUI or other criminal offense, contact the Law Firm of Lucas D. McWethy for a free consultation at 206-427-4901.

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.