Are Stricter DUI Penalties in Washington’s Future?

Are Stricter DUI Penalties in Washington’s FutureWith the way that state laws are organized today, the state of Washington has some of the most relaxed laws in the country when it comes to driving under the influence.  According to a study done by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, there were 160 alcohol related motor vehicle fatalities in Washington in 2012. The U.S. Department of Transportation defines these alcohol-related deaths as “fatalities that occur in crashes where at least one driver or non-occupant (pedestrian or bicyclist) involved in the crash has a positive Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) value”.

Today, across the entire state of Washington, a person needs to be convicted of five DUIs before it is considered a felony. This means that for the first four DUIs, the driver walks away with a misdemeanor. If you are thinking that this seems like a very small punishment for someone who has committed a crime that kills so many people a year, you are right. Of the 45 states that have DUI related felony charges, Washington is the only state in which a person needs to receive a DUI five times before it is considered a felony. The majority of other states reach a felony level after four convictions. Idaho and Oregon, however, have the strictest DUI related laws, with felony convictions in these states happening after only three offenses.

While most people fighting these lenient DUI laws are those who have lost loved ones to alcohol related accidents, the Washington State Senate has not sat back and let these deaths happen without pushing toward change.

One specific state senator, Mike Padden R-Spokane Valley, has taken it upon himself to make a change. After assessing the fact that Washington has the most relaxed DUI laws in the country, as well as looking at the number of alcohol related fatalities, Padden decided that the senate could no longer sit back and accept these deaths and accidents. Last year, he proposed a bill to change the current laws.

This bill would change the current consequences of receiving a DUI in Washington. Instead of being convicted of a felony after the fifth DUI charge, this new law would convict as felony after the fourth DUI. This would bring Washington down on the relaxation surrounding DUIs, leveling this state with majority of others. Padden’s hope is that this would decrease alcohol related crashes and fatalities across the state.

Most people that have more than one DUI conviction will continue to receive these citations. If these drivers are not convicted as felons after the fourth offense, they are likely to be convicted for a fifth DUI. By making the fourth offense a felony, these drivers will not have the chance to drink and drive again, which could save a lot of lives.

Many people think of this new proposal as a safety measure, but there are many other aspects that go into the passing of this law. While it may seem like a no-brainer to make Washington’s roads safer, the law did not pass last year. Many senators saw that the expenses may outweigh the safety. With convicting more felons a year, there would be a significant increase in government expenses for jailing these felons.

Padden says that this year there is a much more bi-partisan spread throughout the senate. He is optimistic that they will see the safety measures outweigh the expenses this year. Unlike last year, Padden plans on approaching the Washington state senate with more options. A few ideas that Padden has presented in regard to keeping expenses down include building more prison space within existing prisons, or reopening old prisons.

When it comes to this debate over expenses, Padden has one returning question: how can you put a price on a life? With these drivers with repeat offenses off the road, the fatality number will lessen. According to The Associated Press, there were 220 alcohol related fatalities in Washington in 2013. This is an increase from the aforementioned statistic from 2012. These numbers continue to grow every year. The roads of Washington will be safer with this new law. How can any amount of money be more important than these lives?

However, some politicians have a different outlook. Washington State Senator David Frokt predicts that if this new law were to be in place, the state of Washington would see a $50-60 million dollar increase in prison expenses. For those who are more concerned with the financial interest of the state, this increase could be a very big deal.

A problem that a lot of states see when a debate arises surrounding drunk driving laws is a connection to the issue. For those who have not been directly affected by a drunk driving related incident, they may not see value in the increase of these laws. On the other side, however, are the families who have lost loved ones to drunk driving accidents. This is where the passion on the subject comes in. These families know that they will not be able to get their loved one back, but many of these families want to eliminate these occurrences for the sake of others. They do not want anyone else to suffer through the same pain that they had gone through. For those who have not felt that pain, this issue may not seem as important.

As of this moment, Padden’s bill still needs to go through the Senate Ways and Means Committee before heading to the floor. As said before, Padden is very optimistic about this process.

If you have been pulled over for a DUI offense, whether it is your first or fifth, the Law Offices of Barbara Bowden can help. We understand that everyone makes mistakes. We will not judge you. Our goal is to help you become as happy and healthy as possible after this type of incident.

If you have any more questions about current or future drunk driving laws, do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Barbara Bowden today.

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