New Distracted Driving Law

Governor Inslee recently signed into law the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics (DUIE) Act. This act targets drivers distracted by the use of electronic handheld devices used while driving. This act was originally slated to take effect January 1, 2019, however Governor Inslee vetoed the portion of the bill that delayed its enactment, and the bill now becomes enforceable in late July of 2017.

Here is what you need to know about the new DUIE laws.

  • They are a primary offense, meaning the officer needs no additional violations to stop and cite you.
    • The second offense will double the fine.
  • This is a moving violation, meaning it is reported to your insurance company on your driving record and will influence your insurance rates.
  • DUIE includes any use of a personal electronic device that is not specifically exempted.
    • Exemptions include calling 911, transit system employees (for certain purposes), CDL drivers (for certain purposes permitted under the federal code), and emergency vehicles.
    • The statue also appears to allow the use of one finger to activate the device if the device is docked hands free. For example, to initiate GPS, music, Bluetooth activation, or other hands-free enabled mode.
      • The one finger exemption does not allow for sending or reading texts, viewing video, or any other reason that would take your eyes off the road (the use of GPS will likely be an area of the statute the causes some difficulty in its application).
  • As of late July you can no longer use your phone on speaker phone while holding the phone. The simple act of holding the phone is defined as “use” and is prohibited (even if the phone is off apparently).
  • There is also a secondary offense of driving dangerously distracted.
    • A secondary offense means you cannot be pulled over only for that reason, but it can be added to a primary offense.
    • This infraction will add a base fine of $30 to the ticket (likely to be more once costs are added to the base fine).
    • This too appears to be reportable to your insurance company.
  • The definition of driving dangerously distracted is quite vague and can be applied to many different actions.
    • “‘dangerously distracted’ means a person who engages in any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of such motor vehicle.”
    • This definition could be applied to any act that is not directly related to driving (such as eating, changing the radio station, attending to a child, putting on make-up etc.)

Once the law is enacted and enforced we will learn more about its implementation and enforcement. With Governor Inslee drastically speeding up the time frame, I would expect the State to be heavily enforcing this when it rolls out in July. Be aware and be prepared now. There are significant statistics that link distracted driving to collisions and I would expect insurance companies to adjust rates once these tickets start getting reported. If you get cited with a traffic violation, DUIE or other, call the Law Firm of Lucas D. McWethy at 206-427-4901 to discuss your options to keep that ticket off your record and away from your insurance.

See the actual text of the Statute here.

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.

How do I choose a Snohomish County Lawyer?

Being accused and charged of crime in Snohomish County can be an intimidating situation. whether you are charged with a Mt. Vernon DUI, a Burlington Theft, or Snohomish County felony, you need a Snohomish County Lawyer to represent you from the beginning. But how do you choose a Lawyer? Where do you begin? What questions should you ask? A personal recommendation from someone you know is usually the best starting point, but do your own research as well. The Lawyer you choose is going to have an enormous impact on your case and its eventual impact on your future. Below are a few starting points to determine help you choose a lawyer to best represent you.

What kind of lawyer do you need?  The first step is to determine what kind of lawyer you need. If you have been charged with a crime in Snohomish County, you need a Snohomish County criminal defense lawyer. If it is an eviction, you need a landlord/tenant lawyer. If you want to sue someone for an injury or a harm done, you want either a personal injury lawyer or a civil attorney. There are numerous online resources to help you narrow your search down to the specific category of lawyer you need.

Compile a list of at least 3 lawyers: Utilizing Google, Avvo.com, personal recommendations, or other sources, compile a list of at least 3 lawyers that have the skill you  need. Then, contact them and set of a consultation. Most criminal defense attorneys like myself offer a free initial consultation. This does not mean that you need to set up 3 separate consultations, but at least call the offices and get a feel for how they do business. Is the lawyer willing to speak with you on the phone? How difficult is it get an appointment with the lawyer? Will they discuss fees over the phone or only in person? Trust and compatibility are both necessary for a productive attorney/client relationship. You should be able to get an initial feel for this by placing a phone call to the Law Firm.

Meet with you best candidates: After placing the phone calls, set up a consultation (I recommend in person, however an in depth consult over the phone or skype may accomplish this goal as well). Speak with them about your case, your history, your goals and get their feedback. Are they giving you honest and realistic feedback? Or are they just telling you what you want to hear? It is rare that a criminal charge will be defended without any difficult decisions to make (plea to a lesser charge vs. trial etc). You need a lawyer that is going to be honest and up front, and that starts with the consultation. You want a skilled lawyer, not just a skilled salesman.

Fully discuss fees: This is particularly important if you are paying hourly or based on a percentage if the case is won. Discuss the fees and get it all in writing. Since I am a criminal defense lawyer, I will touch on how we establish fees. The Washington State Bar Association does not allow criminal defense lawyers to base their fees on a contingent fee (meaning we are only paid if we win). So we must either charge hourly or a flat fee. A flat fee is established up front by the attorney making an assessment of the case and the time that will be involved. Some lawyers will also break up their services into flat fee categories. Meaning, this is the price for representation up to a certain established point, then this amount if you want to continue to fight, then this amount for trial. An example of this is that I charge a flat fee for all representation up to the determination to go to trial. The vast majority of cases in Washington State settle by plea agreement prior to trial. I do not believe in charging someone for a service they may not utilize, so I charge a flat affordable fee for representation, then an hourly fee for trial should the determination be made that trial is the way to go. No matter what, get the fee structure in writing and make sure you understand it.

Find an attorney that fits you financial means: If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided to you by the court. However, you do not get to choose your public defender, they are assigned. There are some great public defenders out there, but they are very typically overworked and underpaid. If you are able to retain a private lawyer, you get to choose someone you trust and they are typically mush more accessible. You do not need to be rich or have an immense savings to afford a lawyer. There is a wide range of lawyers that all charge different amounts, with different size retainers, and some, like myself, offer affordable payment plans as well. The cost of an attorney is not always reflective of their skill. Established attorneys that have been in practice for decades can often charge much more. However, laws change rapidly, case-law changes decisions, and Judges and prosecutors are replaced. What worked in criminal defense in 1985 may not be relevant anymore. Speak with the Lawyer to determine their skill, knowledge and expertise. Do not just rely on how long they have been a lawyer.

I hope this helps you on the first step to determining the best Snohomish County Lawyer for you. If you have any questions, please feel fee to leave them in the comment section. If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime in Snohomish County, call the Law Firm of Lucas D. McWethy for a free consultation.

How do I choose a Skagit County Laywer?

Being accused and charged of crime in Skagit County can be an intimidating situation. whether you are charged with a Mt. Vernon DUI, a Burlington Theft, or Skagit County felony, you need a Skagit County Lawyer to represent you from the beginning. But how do you choose a Lawyer? Where do you begin? What questions should you ask? A personal recommendation from someone you know is usually the best starting point, but do your own research as well. The Lawyer you choose is going to have an enormous impact on your case and its eventual impact on your future. Below are a few starting points to determine help you choose a lawyer to best represent you.

What kind of lawyer do you need?  The first step is to determine what kind of lawyer you need. If you have been charged with a crime in Skagit County, you need a Skagit County criminal defense lawyer. If it is an eviction, you need a landlord/tenant lawyer. If you want to sue someone for an injury or a harm done, you want either a personal injury lawyer or a civil attorney. There are numerous online resources to help you narrow your search down to the specific category of lawyer you need.

Compile a list of at least 3 lawyers: Utilizing Google, Avvo.com, personal recommendations, or other sources, compile a list of at least 3 lawyers that have the skill you  need. Then, contact them and set of a consultation. Most criminal defense attorneys like myself offer a free initial consultation. This does not mean that you need to set up 3 separate consultations, but at least call the offices and get a feel for how they do business. Is the lawyer willing to speak with you on the phone? How difficult is it get an appointment with the lawyer? Will they discuss fees over the phone or only in person? Trust and compatibility are both necessary for a productive attorney/client relationship. You should be able to get an initial feel for this by placing a phone call to the Law Firm.

Meet with you best candidates: After placing the phone calls, set up a consultation (I recommend in person, however an in depth consult over the phone or skype may accomplish this goal as well). Speak with them about your case, your history, your goals and get their feedback. Are they giving you honest and realistic feedback? Or are they just telling you what you want to hear? It is rare that a criminal charge will be defended without any difficult decisions to make (plea to a lesser charge vs. trial etc). You need a lawyer that is going to be honest and up front, and that starts with the consultation. You want a skilled lawyer, not just a skilled salesman.

Fully discuss fees: This is particularly important if you are paying hourly or based on a percentage if the case is won. Discuss the fees and get it all in writing. Since I am a criminal defense lawyer, I will touch on how we establish fees. The Washington State Bar Association does not allow criminal defense lawyers to base their fees on a contingent fee (meaning we are only paid if we win). So we must either charge hourly or a flat fee. A flat fee is established up front by the attorney making an assessment of the case and the time that will be involved. Some lawyers will also break up their services into flat fee categories. Meaning, this is the price for representation up to a certain established point, then this amount if you want to continue to fight, then this amount for trial. An example of this is that I charge a flat fee for all representation up to the determination to go to trial. The vast majority of cases in Washington State settle by plea agreement prior to trial. I do not believe in charging someone for a service they may not utilize, so I charge a flat affordable fee for representation, then an hourly fee for trial should the determination be made that trial is the way to go. No matter what, get the fee structure in writing and make sure you understand it.

Find an attorney that fits you financial means: If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided to you by the court. However, you do not get to choose your public defender, they are assigned. There are some great public defenders out there, but they are very typically overworked and underpaid. If you are able to retain a private lawyer, you get to choose someone you trust and they are typically mush more accessible. You do not need to be rich or have an immense savings to afford a lawyer. There is a wide range of lawyers that all charge different amounts, with different size retainers, and some, like myself, offer affordable payment plans as well. The cost of an attorney is not always reflective of their skill. Established attorneys that have been in practice for decades can often charge much more. However, laws change rapidly, case-law changes decisions, and Judges and prosecutors are replaced. What worked in criminal defense in 1985 may not be relevant anymore. Speak with the Lawyer to determine their skill, knowledge and expertise. Do not just rely on how long they have been a lawyer.

I hope this helps you on the first step to determining the best Skagit County Lawyer for you. If you have any questions, please feel fee to leave them in the comment section. If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime in Skagit County, call the Law Firm of Lucas D. McWethy for a free consultation.