Washington Drunk Driving-Related Crimes: DUI, Reckless Driving, Negligent Driving 1st Degree, Reckless Endangerment

Woman Being Pulled Over for Drunk Driving in Washington - Campbell Law Firm

A Washington Drunk Driving Charge Doesn’t Need to Result in a DUI Conviction

It’s the night of your brother-in-law’s bachelor party, a girls’ night out, or an evening of wining and dining.

You had a blast in Mount Vernon, walking around South 3rd, Montgomery, West Gates, and Myrtle Streets. You enjoyed spectacular evening views of the Skagit River, and it’s time to head home. You’ll be driving north to Burlington, then over to Anacortes.

It’s late, you’re tired, you had a few drinks, but you feel fine to drive.

Heading south on Route 20, you weave a little bit and drift left of center, then roll through a stop sign. You see the red and blue lights in your rear-view mirror and have that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. You’re getting pulled over.

How much did you have to drink?

Will the officer make you do Field Sobriety Tests?

What should you do if they ask you to take a Breath Test?

Even though you felt fine to drive, there’s a chance you could be charged with a DUI. But by working with a Skagit County DUI lawyer who handles Washington drunk driving charges, you may be able to have the charges reduced, or even have the case thrown out.

Penalties for Washington Drunk Driving Charges

The bad news is that Washington has some of the toughest DUI laws in the country.

You can be convicted of Driving Under the Influence (RCW 46.61.502) if:

  • You are impaired by alcohol or drugs such that your “ability to drive a motor vehicle is lessened in any appreciable degree”
  • You have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08% or higher, or
  • You have a concentration of 5 nanograms or more of THC (the primary ingredient in marijuana)

A Washington DUI is a gross misdemeanor. If you are convicted of a first-time DUI with a BAC of less than .15%, you face penalties of:

  • A minimum of 24 hours up to 364 days in jail;
  • 15 days of electronic home monitoring (EHM) in lieu of jail
  • Fines from $990.50 up to $5,000, and
  • A 90-day license suspension

First-time offenders are also required to have an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) installed in their vehicle for at least one year.

If you are convicted and had a person under the age of 16 in the car with you, you will be required to have an IID installed for 18 months. You will also be looking at a higher minimum fine.

The good news is that if this is your first offense, you may be able to have the charges reduced to a lesser offense or even dismissed.

A Skagit County DUI Lawyer Can Defend You Against Washington Drunk Driving Charges

In many cases, as long as there are no aggravating factors and this is your first Washington drunk driving charge, prosecutors in Skagit County, Mt. Vernon, Anacortes, and Burlington will consider amending a first-time DUI charge to a "lesser charge" such as Reckless Driving, Negligent Driving 1st Degree, or Reckless Endangerment. However, their is no guarantee a specific prosecutor will be willing to amend a DUI charge at all. Getting an amendment out of many prosecutors takes a lot of work.

Some of the lesser included offenses that a skilled and experienced Washington DUI defense lawyer might be able negotiate your Washington drunk driving charge down to include:

  • Reckless Driving (RCW 46.61.500). Reckless driving occurs when a person drives a vehicle with a “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” This is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. If you are convicted, you will lose your driving privileges for up to 30 days. However, you can still drive during that 30 day suspension by obtaining an ignition interlock driver's license. Therefore, even though a Reckless Driving conviction is a gross misdemeanor, like a DUI, it does not have the collateral consequences and mandatory minimum penalties a DUI conviction carries. Also, assuming certain factors are met, you can have a reckless driving conviction vacated from your record. A DUI conviction in Washington will stay on your record for life. The maximum probationary term for reckless driving is 24 months, less than the term of 60 months for a DUI conviction. While on probation for reckless driving you are not subject to mandatory minimum probation sanctions as you would be if on DUI probation.
  • Reckless Endangerment (RCW 9A.36.050). Reckless endangerment occurs when a person “recklessly engages in conduct not amounting a drive-by shooting but that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person.” Reckless endangerment is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. Reckless Endangerment is not a traffic crime. The same analysis as to probation, collateral consequences, and criminal history as explained under reckless driving applies to reckless endangerment.
  • Negligent Driving First Degree (RCW 46.61.5249). Negligent driving 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 marijuana or any drug or exhibits the effects of having inhaled or ingested any chemical...for its intoxicating or hallucinatory effects.” Negligent driving is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 in jail. There is no mandatory license suspension for Negligent Driving in the 1st Degree. Again, the collateral consequences, probatoinary term (24 months), and ability to vacate the conviction as in reckless driving and reckless endangerment apply to negligent driving 1st degree.

Keep in mind that each of these will be considered a "prior offense" if you are charged with a DUI at some point in the future.

Why You Should Consider a Plea Bargain

When a Washington DUI defense lawyer negotiates a plea bargain, you get the benefit of not having a DUI conviction on your record. In the future, if you are asked if you have ever been convicted of a DUI, you can truthfully answer “No.”

In many cases, your Washington DUI defense lawyer can negotiate the fines and penalties with the prosecutor. If your case is amended to one of the crimes listed above, you are not facing any mandatory jail time.

Depending on the specific nature of your Washington drunk driving charge and whether the arresting officer complied with all the formalities for a proper arrest, your DUI defense lawyer may be able to have the charge dismissed completely.

Even if that’s not the case, it is still beneficial to negotiate a plea to a lesser offense. You won’t have a DUI conviction on your record, and you may face lighter penalties than you would for a DUI conviction. Keep in mind that a DUI conviction in Washington will stay on your record for life. One benefit of amending to a lesser offense is that you may be able to have your conviction vacated in the future.

Facing Washington Drunk Driving Charges? Contact the Campbell Law Firm Today

If you or someone you care about is facing Washington drunk driving charges in Skagit County or Island County, including Mount Vernon, Anacortes, Oak Harbor, or Whidbey Island, contact Washington DUI defense lawyer Justin Campbell at the Campbell Law Firm.

Call (360) 588-4111, email info@lawjrc.com, or complete our online form to schedule a free 90-minute consultation.

Categories: DUI / Drunk Driving