Barbara A. Bowden

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Washington Governor Signs Harsher Felony DUI Laws

As of March 31, 2016, harsher penalties are in store for many repeat drunk driving offenders in the Evergreen State. Washington Governor, Jay Inslee, recently signed a new felony DUI bill that doubles the maximum penalties for felony-level drunk driving convictions.

Across the country, state and city legislators have a habit of aggressively pushing new tough-on-crime bills (especially during election years), most often targeting sex offenders or drunk drivers. Drunk driving remains one of the most common crimes in the country, yet a growing taboo against driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs makes these defendants particularly unwelcome in modern society.

According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) latest data, about 29.1 million people will drive drunk this year. On a daily basis, about 4,000 drivers will be arrested for driving under the influence, and the average drunk driver will drive while intoxicated 80 times before ever getting arrested.

Until recently, few states had felony DUI laws, even for chronic DUI offenders. That meant that people could get arrested for drunk driving once, twice, five, or even a dozen times without ever facing a felony charge or losing their license. But today, almost every state has passed felony DUI laws, and now Washington joins a growing list of states implementing ever harsher punishments for drunk drivers.

House Bill 2280 passed both the Washington Senate and House with near unanimous support before collecting Governor Inslee’s signature this March. Old Washington DUI laws held that a driver’s fifth DUI conviction within 10 years was punished as a Class C felony, but the new law strengthens the penalty to a Class B felony. Any driver convicted of a DUI after receiving a prior conviction for vehicular homicide or assault while intoxicated would face a Class B felony as well.

With the NHTSA reporting that 29% of drivers convicted of DUI charges are repeat offenders, the new Washington DUI law has major implications for people arrested of driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or any other controlled substance.

A Class C felony can result in a five year prison sentence and $10,000 fine, but a Class B felony would double those punishments to a maximum of 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines. Still, in the absence of aggravating circumstances, a driver’s first four DUI convictions will be treated as gross misdemeanors, which can still result in jail time, heavy fines, probation, and a suspended driver’s license.

As one of the only places in the country to legalize recreational marijuana, local police officers are always on the lookout for motorists driving under the influence of marijuana. In fact, Washington lawmakers are pioneering new standards for marijuana DUI testing. Instead of a breathalyzer, drivers suspected of a marijuana DUI are given a blood test. Drivers are considered to be under the influence of marijuana when the test reveals at least five nanograms of THC metabolites per milliliter of blood within two hours of driving.

For drivers arrested for an alcohol or marijuana DUI, it’s more important than ever to contact a DUI defense attorney ASAP. The criminal defense attorneys and DUI lawyers at the Law Offices of Barbara A. Bowden always want to ensure your rights are protected and respected. For more information on developing a DUI defense, contact our Lakewood, Washington office today.

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