DUI Resolutions

“Seattle DUI Potential Outcomes”

There are many potential resolutions to a criminal charge, such as DUI, in the city of Seattle. Some of the most common are: Going to Trial, a Deferred Prosecution, a Dismissal, and Plea Negotiations.

Trial

In the state of Washington, including the city of Seattle, any person charged with a DUI or any other criminal offense has a right to a trial. Even though this right is essential to maintaining a fair judicial system a trial is often not the best option a defendant has. In fact, the vast majority of DUIs in Washington State are resolved without a trial. This is because the process of investigation and negotiation usually allows the defendant the opportunity to either get the charges against them dropped, or accept a deal that avoids the high penalties possible if they are found guilty of DUI in a trial. It is always up to the defendant to decide whether or not they wish to take their case to trial. An attorney may advise a client to take a particular course of action, but the final decision is always in the hands of the defendant.

Their are many reasons that defendants decide to go to trial. Sometimes prosecutors feel they have a very strong case and decide not to agree to a reduction of a charge, in these cases the defendant may feel they have little to risk by proceeding to trial. In other cases a defendant may feel that there is such a good chance that they will be found innocent that they do not want to take any offer from the prosecutor.

In cases where the prosecutor has refused to agree to a reduction of the charge, it sometimes still in a defendant’s best interest to plea guilty rather than proceeding to trial. The reason for this is that with a guilty plea it is often possible to get the prosecutor to agree to recommend a certain sentence to the court, usually the minimum penalty that the law requires. Prosecutors often try to discourage defendants from going to trial by seeking higher penalties after a finding of guilty at a trial. Deciding whether or not to accept a guilty plea just for a prosecutors recommendation depends mostly on the judge your case is being heard by. Some judges feel it is unfair to punish people more harshly for exercising their constitutional rights to a trial, and will impose only the minimum penalty even if the prosecutor asks for more. Other judges, however, see a conviction at trial as an opportunity to impose the penalty they see fit, and may impose a substantially higher penalty than the minimum, sometimes even higher than the prosecutor requests. A defendant would be wise to talk to their attorney about the reputation that a judge has for handing out harsh or light sentences when deciding whether or not to proceed to trial.

If there is a lack of evidence against the defendant they may believe that if they were to go to trial they will not be found guilty. This may be because there has never been very strong evidence or that the existing evidence, through pre-trial motions, has been suppressed. It is actually rare that defendants proceed to trial on this basis, because, if there really isn’t a substantial enough amount of evidence to likely yield a conviction the prosecutor will usually make a fair offer to the attorney representing the defendant in the DUI case. Frequently, in Seattle, the defendant will be advised to accept an offer to plea to a lesser charge, though of course it is always up to the defendant whether or not they wish to go to trial.

There are two different types of trials for misdemeanors in the city of Seattle, a bench trial and a jury trial. A bench trial takes place before a judge, with no jury. A jury trial takes place before six jurors from the state of Washington, in felony cases the jury would have 12 members. At trial both sides have the opportunity to call witnesses. In a DUI trial the most common witnesses are the arresting police officer, the defendant, and, in cases involving a breath or blood test, a scientific expert. A defendant is never required to testify, and a defense attorney may advise for or against the defendant testifying depending on the case specifics. Again, going to trial is not a common outcome for DUI charges in Seattle and is often looked at as a last resort.

Deferred Prosecution

For those addicted to alcohol or other illegal substances the State of Washington has creaetd a program called a deferred prosecution written into law in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) section 10.05. The positive side of a deferred prosecution of a DUI charge is that it allows a defendant the chance to keep their license(though not a CDL), avoid jail time, and even get the charge dismissed after a 5 year period, all while treating their drug or alcohol addiction. The negative side of a deferred prosecution of a DUI charge is that it is extremely expensive, burdensome, and potentially risky. It requires 2 years of treatment and 5 years of probation, any violation of which can and will result in a conviction for DUI and all the penalties associated with that.

The defense attorneys of Findley & Rogers in the city of Seattle regularly examine the details of their client’s cases and determine whether or not a deferred prosecution may be a good option for them, but there are a number of requirements that must be met before a deferred prosecution may be entered. First, and most importantly, a state-certified agency must determine that they are dependent on alcohol or drugs. To do so the agency will consider a number of factors including a criminal history involving drugs or alcohol, the client’s self reported use, and the specifics of the DUI case at hand. Second, the client must agree to undergo, and be financially responsible for a 2 year treatment program. The costs of these programs vary with the agency, but commonly cost several thousand dollars.

In order to successfully complete a deferred prosecution and get a DUI charge dropped, a defendant will have to do complete several requirements. First the two-year treatment program, the structure of these programs differ on a case by case basis, but a defendant can expect to have treatment several times a week for at least the first 6 months, followed by gradual stepping down. Once this treatment is complete there is still a period of three years of mandatory law-abiding behavior to get through. Throughout the five years the defendant must not be involved in any criminal activity and must abstain completely from all alcohol and non-prescription drugs. Failure to comply with these requirements will result in the revocation of the deferred prosecution.

There are other burdens placed on defendants who opt for a deferred prosecution. An ignition interlock device will be required for two years on any vehicle the defendant drives, though there are exceptions available for work vehicles. The defendant will be able to keep their license and will not be required to get high risk insurance which can be extremely costly. Defendants who hire a Seattle DUI Attorney and choose to participate in a deferred prosecution program give up a number of rights, including the rights to go to trial, question witnesses, testify on their own behalf, and the right to an appeal. Entering into a deferred prosecution also requires that the defendant agree that everything in the police report is accurate and admissible. The defendant must also agree that they may not introduce any evidence aside from the police reports on their own behalf. In effect a defendant must agree that if they were to choose to participate in a deferred prosecution program but failed to follow all the rules then a judge would simply read the initial police reports filed with the charge and enter a finding of guilt based on those reports. For this reason it is unwise for anyone who is not fully committed to treatment to undertake a deferred prosecution.

If you are dependant on alcohol or drugs then deferred prosecution may be a good route to go, especially if the defendant has a number of prior offenses that may subject them to increased penalties. The deferred prosecution program is only available once in a defendants lifetime, regardless of whether they successfully complete it or not, and regardless of whether it was completed in Washington or elsewhere. It is wise to defer to the expertise of an attorney to determine if entering into a deferred prosecution program is a good decision for dealing with a DUI charge.

Dismissal

A dismissal is the ideal outcome for anyone convicted of a DUI in Seattle, but the reality is dismissals are extremely rare, no matter how skilled the attorney handling the case. There are essentially two ways for a dismissal to occur, either a prosecutor can agree to dismiss a case based on lack of evidence, or the case can be dismissed after a motion hearing before a judge. Unless there is indisputable evidence that a defendant is innocent, such as a blood test showing no intoxicants in the system, it is rare for a prosecutor to dismiss a charge even when the evidence they do have seems slight. Prosecutors often would rather at least try to convict someone they believe guilty than let them go without a fight. Motions to dismiss are the most common means of getting a case dismissed when it comes to DUI charges, and they generally result from a violation of a defendant’s Constitutional rights or a strong lack of evidence.

It should again be stressed that the outcome of DUI charges in Seattle is rarely a straight dismissal, though any defense attorney will pursue a dismissal if they see chance for one.

Plea Negotiations

By far the most common outcome in a DUI charge in the city of Seattle is that of a plea negotiation. These are essentially deals made between the prosecutor and the defendant, the most common form of which would be the prosecutor offering to reduce the charge to a lesser offense in exchange for a guilty plea.

During negotiations a prosecutor may offer a number of reductions of a DUI charge, a below or no-test DUI, a Reckless Driving, a Reckless Endangerment, or a Negligent Driving charge are the primary lesser offenses that DUI’s may be reduced to.

If a defendant refused a breathalyzer or had a blood alcohol level above a 0.15, an offer of ‘a below 0.15 or no-test DUI’ would be the most likely offer a prosecutor would make. Though considered a reduction a ‘below 0.15 or no-test DUI’ is in fact a DUI charge, and carries mandatory jail time, suspension of your license, fines, an ignition interlock system, SR22 insurance, and up to a five year probationary period.

Reckless driving (RCW 46.61.500) is defined as “Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property”. It is classified as a gross misdemeanor meaning it has a maximum jail sentence of one year and a $5,000 fine which is the same maximum that a DUI carries. However, there is no mandatory jail time or ignition interlock requirement and the maximum probationary period is two years. There is a mandatory thirty-day suspension of your license but it may be possible to continue driving during those thirty days with an occupational or restricted license. One of the biggest benefits of a reckless driving charge is the fact that it may be possible to have it removed from your record after 3 years, where a DUI is permanent, serious consideration should be involved anytime you hire a Seattle DUI Attorney.

Reckless Endangerment (RCW 9A.36.050) is also a gross misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 365 days in Jail and a $5000 fine. Unlike any other possible DUI reduction, however, reckless endangerment is not considered a driving offense, meaning there is no suspension of your license associated with a conviction, and no mark on your driving record.

Negligent Driving in the first degree (RCW 46.61.5249) is defined as “operating a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property, and exhibits the effects of having consumed liquor or an illegal drug”. It is classified as a simple misdemeanor with a maximum jail time of 90 days and a $1,000 fine. There is no mandatory jail time, no license suspension, SR22 insurance or ignition interlock system and the maximum period for probation is two years. Negligent driving in the first degree is the lowest charge that most prosecutors will agree to amend a DUI to, unless there is some extremely strong mitigating evidence.

Pleading guilty to Reckless Driving, Reckless Endangerment, or Negligent Driving in the city of Seattle means that you have not been convicted of a DUI charge. However, a guilty plea to these reductions will be considered a prior offense by the courts for 7 years after the plea is entered. This means that any subsequent conviction for DUI will result in the higher mandatory minimum penalties reserved for those with a past DUI.

Though there is no certainty that the accused will walk away with a reduction in their charge a plea bargain is typically the best option for someone charged with a DUI in the city of Seattle and typically the outcome most attorneys pursue.

Every case is different, nothing in this article is intended as a comment on a particular attorney’s abilities, and Findley & Rogers can make no guarantees about the resolution of a given case and nothing in this article is intended to form an attorney client relationship with you.