Washington State’s DUI Law Receives Major Updates

Written by Jakob McGhie

There is often a change to the laws concerning the approach to driving under the influence (DUI) by the Washington state Legislature each year. The 2024 legislative session was no exception.

Recently, the Legislature passed House Bill 1493, expected to be endorsed by the governor. This new legislation provides more options for those accused of DUI for the first time and simplifies the process for the state to impose a felony charge.

Significant updates to the DUI law include:

1. Felony DUI Charges – Typically, a DUI offense is considered a gross misdemeanor meaning the maximum jail sentence is less than a year. You retain certain rights such as the right to vote, bear arms or occupy public office, though gun rights can be influenced by a DUI conviction. However, a DUI can escalate to a felony, for example, if the accused has at least three previous convictions of DUI or a related offense within a specific timeframe.

Previously, this “lookback” period was 10 years. However, HB 1493 has expanded it to 15 years, allowing individuals with previous convictions between 10 to 15 years prior to their latest felony charge to be more readily charged with a felony DUI. This is likely to increase the number of DUIs charged as felony offenses.

2. Sentencing Alternatives for Felony DUI Convictions – Despite making it easier to charge a DUI as a felony, the Legislature has also broadened a favored sentencing alternative. This would allow an individual convicted of a felony DUI to avoid or reduce their prison sentence. The Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (SODA) allows a court to recommend treatment instead of prison and is now available to those convicted of a felony DUI offense, provided it is their first felony conviction.

3. Modifications to Deferred Prosecutions – HB 1493 also tweaks the way deferred prosecutions function for first-time DUI offenders. A deferred prosecution is a process whereby a person charged with a misdemeanor can ask a court for mental health treatment or treatment for substance use disorder. Successful completion of this program results in charge dismissal. However, prior to HB 1493, only one lifetime request for deferred DUI prosecution was allowed.

The new law modifies this by permitting a second deferred prosecution for a subsequent offense, with a caveat: if an individual charged with a first-time DUI declines to defer that prosecution but then faces another DUI charge, they can only request one deferred prosecution, as was previously the case.

With the continuous changes to DUI laws and the criminal code, it’s crucial for individuals accused of crimes or DUI to consult with a seasoned criminal defense attorney to understand their rights. Criminal defense attorneys, including myself, often offer free consultations to those who might not afford them.

Jakob McGhie is a criminal defense attorney and partner with the law firm Althauser Rayan Abbarno, based in Centralia.

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