If You Are Charged With a DUI in WA, Be Prepared for Two Parallel Processes:
Everyone charged with a Washington State DUI / DWI must go through two legal processes: one in the criminal courts and one with the Washington State Department of Licensing. This Part I addresses the court process.
DUI Court Process in Washington State:
A DUI is a criminal offense called a gross misdemeanor. As a criminal defendant, you have “due process” rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and the Washington State Constitution. The process in court involves several hearings. It is very important to be present for all DUI court hearings unless your lawyer specifically tells you otherwise. Some courts give different names to similar hearings, but the typical court appearances in your criminal case will be Arraignment, Pretrial, Motions, Readiness, and Trial.
This is the first court appearance and it can take place any time from a few days after the arrest up to the end of the “statute of limitations,” which is two years after the arrest. Most often, arraignment occurs within a few months of the arrest.
At arraignment, the judge will impose conditions that you must abide by while the case is pending to avoid being taken into custody. The judge may also require that you post bail/bond to remain out of jail while the case is pending.
Courts vary widely for the conditions that they impose at arraignment for Washington State DUIs. Judges look at two factors: the likelihood for you to come to court and the likelihood for you to commit a violent offense – most often, the concern is that you would commit another DUI that causes an accident. Some courts, such as Seattle Municipal Court, routinely impose the ignition interlock device at the arraignment for high breath tests, refusals, and prior offenses. Other courts take a more lenient approach. Because courts vary widely, we believe it is important to meet with an experienced attorney prior to your arraignment to determine what is likely to happen.
You and your attorney will have an opportunity to object to conditions of release and bail/bond. An experienced attorney can advise you on the expected conditions of release and the likelihood of a court setting bail in your case and can help you prepare to post it quickly so that you can avoid spending any time in jail.
Pre-Trial Hearings (Case Settings, Case Scheduling):
At arraignment, a pre-trial hearing will be scheduled to allow the court to monitor the progress of your case and to resolve issues that might arise while your case is pending. It is very common to ask that a case be “continued” at a pre-trial hearing to give the parties sufficient time fully to investigate and negotiate your case. In some courts, the pre-trial hearing is the best opportunity to negotiate with the prosecutor on your case. There may be a designated negotiating prosecutor present (not in the courtroom, often in a room just outside the courtroom) who has authority to make decisions on your case and is prepared to discuss the case with your attorney.
There are a large number of legal motions that we may file on your behalf, such as motions to dismiss for violation of your constitutional and/or other rights, motions to suppress, and other motions to help your case. Examples of DUI defense motions include:
· Motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause to stop or seize.
· No reasonable suspicion a crime has occurred.
· Motion to dismiss for unlawful detention.
· Motion to suppress evidence for violation of access to counsel.
· Motion to suppress evidence of field sobriety tests.
· Failure to comply with foundational requirements of breath test.
· Motion to suppress evidence of blood test.
Readiness Hearings (Omnibus, Jury Call):
A readiness hearing is generally scheduled anywhere from several days to several weeks prior to trial. At this hearing both parties inform the court of their “readiness” for trial. Your case may be continued at this hearing if for some reason the case is not ready to proceed to trial as scheduled (e.g., witnesses unavailable, additional evidence discovered, lack of courtroom availability). Additionally, your case could be resolved at this hearing with a negotiated disposition and sentencing if appropriate.
While most cases are resolved prior to a trial, some cases proceed to a full trial. If it is appropriate for your case to proceed to a trial, you may have the option of choosing between a jury trial and a bench trial. In general, we recommend a jury trial for most criminal cases. This is a decision you can make after weighing the pros and cons with your lawyer.
In a trial, the prosecutor must prove every element of the crime(s) charged beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury must make a unanimous verdict to result in a criminal conviction.
If you do not win at trial or if you enter a plea of guilty, then you will face a sentencing. In Washington State criminal cases, sentencing decisions are made by judges. This is true even if you are found guilty at a jury trial - the judge who oversaw the case would impose any sentence without input from the jury.
At sentencing, the prosecutor will make a recommendation to the judge. Unless there is a negotiated resolution on the case that requires an “agreed” sentence recommendation between both parties, you and your lawyer will have an opportunity to make a sentencing recommendation to the judge as well. These are just recommendations, and a judge will always have the authority to impose whatever sentence he or she believes is appropriate in your specific case.
Over more than three decades of combined experience, our attorneys have helped hundreds of people in Washington State who are in a similar situation to yours successfully fight their DUI charges. Call us at 206-467-3190 to schedule a free consultation.
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