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Driving Offenses

I Was Arrested for a Driving Offense – What Does That Mean?

The effects of a criminal driving conviction can have serious consequences. A conviction can mean jail time, loss of driving privileges, increased auto insurance rates, a criminal record, negative points on your driving record, denial of admissions into foreign countries, and employment consequences. It is important that these charges are taken seriously and that individuals do not drive unless they are properly licensed and insured.

Criminal Driving Offenses

There are numerous traffic crimes that are misdemeanors and/or felony offenses. They are all serious charges and most carry license suspensions and high-risk insurance requirements. The list below provides a sample of the most common criminal traffic violations. If you are facing a driving offense, talk to an attorney to learn the options and the consequences of each charge.

Driving Under the Influence

RCW 46.61.502(see DUI page) DUI Sentencing Grid

DUI Arrests:

If you were arrested for a DUI you only have 15 days from the date of violation to file a request for a DOL administrative hearing to challenge your license suspension. Don't wait until you receive criminal charging documents in the mail to act. Read the both sides of the paperwork the officer gave you, contact an attorney and carefully consider if you would like to request a hearing. For more information visit the how to request a administrative hearing section of the DOL website.

DOL Notices:

It is very important that you make sure that the Department of Licensing has a current address for you so that you actually receive any notices of pending suspensions and/or information on how to request a civil DOL hearing. The DOL is required to send all notices to the last of record filed with the DOL. If you have moved or if the address of your driver's license is different than your current mailing address, don't just assume that the DOL has your most current mailing address on file. Visit the DOL website for more information on how to update your address.

Driver Under 21 Consuming Alcohol

A person is guilty of driving or being in physical control of a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol if the person operates or is in physical control of a motor vehicle within this state and the person: (a) Is under the age of twenty-one; and (b) Has, within two hours after operating or being in physical control of the motor vehicle, an alcohol concentration of at least 0.02 but less than the 0.08, as shown by analysis of the person's breath or blood (or was affected by alcohol and/or drugs). If convicted, the penalty involves a maximum 90 days in jail; $1,000 fine; (no mandatory minimum) and a 90 day license suspension; I year if test refused (eligible for restricted license after 30 days; 90 days if test refused) If this is a second administrative action taken against a minor, license suspension of 1 year or 2 years (depending upon if test was refused) or until age 21, whichever is longer. RCW 46.61.503.

Physical Control of a Vehicle Under the Influence

(1) A person is guilty of being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug if the person has actual physical control of a vehicle within this state: (a) And the person has, within two hours after being in actual physical control of the vehicle, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher as shown by analysis of the person's breath or blood; or (b) While the person is under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor or any drug; or (c) While the person is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor and/or drug. If convicted, the maximum penalty is 364 days in jail, $5,000 fine, license suspension, ignition interlock requirement, chemical dependency evaluation ad any recommended treatment. If the person has prior DUI or Physical Control convictions or a blood alcohol content above .15, the penalties are more severe. RCW 46.61.504.

Reckless Driving

This charge is a gross misdemeanor and is punishable up to a 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Your license will be suspended for a minimum of 30 days if you are convicted. If you drive during the suspension period without a restricted license, additional charges may be brought against you. Reckless driving is defined as “driving in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” It does not take much to be charged with this offense. For example, weaving in and out of traffic or driving in excess of the speed limit is sufficient, to cite you for a criminal offense. Unfortunately, some courts impose jail time for first time offenders and a reckless driving conviction can result in inadmissibility to Canada. RCW 46.61.500.

Negligent Driving First Degree

This charge is a misdemeanor and is punishable up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. A person is guilty of this offense is he /she “operates 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.” Ironically, Negligent Driving does not have as severe punishments, but is harder to prove than driving under the influence. RCW 46.61.5249.

Hit and Run Unattended

This is a misdemeanor offense and is punishable up to 90 days in jail and up to $1,000 fine without any type of license suspension. A person may be found guilty of this offense if he/she operates a vehicle and strikes another car that is unattended and leaves the scene without providing identifying information in a conspicuous location. RCW 46.52.010.

Hit and Run Attended

This is a gross misdemeanor and is punishable up to 364 days in jail, up to a $5,000 fine and a one year license suspension. A person is guilty of this offense if he/ she operates a vehicle and strikes an attended vehicle and leaves the scene without providing identifying information. It will become a felony if the victim is injured as a result of the accident. Be careful, a person may not stop and exchange identifying information if he/she thought the vehicles were not damaged after the vehicles “clipped” each other. A person can still be charged in this situation. RCW 46.52.020.

Attempting to Elude Pursuing Police Vehicle

A driver who willfully fails to stop and who drives in a wanton or willful disregard for the lives of other while attempting to elude a police vehicle is guilty of a class C felony. DOL will suspend your license upon conviction. However, depending on the facts, a jury or judge can find a person guilty of a misdemeanor charge of failing to obey a police officer instead of felony eluding. It is a misdemeanor offense if a driver refuses or neglects to stop when signaled by a police officer. 

RCW 46.61.024.

Driving While License Suspended (DWLS)

Washington State recognizes three levels of suspension: First, Second and Third. RCW 46.20.342

Driving while license suspended in the third degree is the least serious of the three levels. It is punishable by up to 90 days in jail. These cases are often frustrating because many people unknowingly commit this offense. For example, if a person forgets to pay a ticket then the Department of License (DOL) will suspend his/ her privilege to drive and send the suspension notification to their last known address. The person may never receive the DOL suspension notification if they move residences or if their mail is misplaced. Unfortunately, the first time it is brought to his/ her attention is when they are stopped for a minor traffic infraction and the officer cites them for a criminal offense. Often, you must pay a heavy fine to get your license reinstated. Some cases can be negotiated to a traffic infraction if your license is reinstated.

Second degree charges generally comes about as the result of being convicted of a crime (like DUI or Felony Eluding) or an Administrative Action (DUI). Conviction for DWLS 2nd carries with it the likelihood of jail time and one year license suspension in addition to existing suspensions. It is punishable up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Your privilege to drive will be suspended for a second time if you are convicted of this offense.

Those suspended in the 1st degree are labeled Habitual Traffic Offenders. Conviction for DWLS 1st degree carries with it mandatory minimum sentences: 10 days, 90 days, and 180 days for the first, second, third convictions. There is also an additional 12 months of license suspension for each conviction. People at this suspension level tend to “stack” these charges by continuing to drive and getting caught. This means that when they are finally taken into custody, they can be looking at significant time behind bars. It is punishable up to a 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. If you find yourself in a situation like this, talk to your attorney immediately, the longer you wait – the more trouble you will get yourself into.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.