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In Washington state, as in all states, citizens are not permitted to drive a motor vehicle while they are under the influence of alcohol. This does not, however, mean that they cannot drive after drinking anything. To be illegal under Washington law, drivers must have drank enough to be over the thresholds set for what constitutes drunk driving. This is not based on how an individual feels, but on the level of alcohol in one's blood, or their Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). This number can be calculated using a breath test.
The laws for BAC levels are the same in Washington as they are in many states, which is to say that the upper limit for drivers who are of a legal drinking age -— 21 and older -— is 0.08. It is lower for underage drivers, with the BAC limit set at 0.02, and it is also lower for commercial drivers, who have a limit of 0.04. Remember, it is this test, and not the way that you feel behind the wheel, that will be used in court, as alcohol does impact people differently, based on their tolerance levels, their weight and many other factors.
Don't want to take the breath test? As a United States citizen, you have the right to simply refuse the test. However, as with your exercising of other rights, that does not mean that there will not be consequences. In Washington, a first refusal gets you an automatic license suspension that lasts for a year. Your second refusal brings this up to two years, and your third refusal will net you a suspension for three years. Other states may offer ranges for the suspensions, or other options -— like an ignition interlock system -— but Washington keeps things simple with these three sentences.
If you are convicted of a DUI, the potential penalties that you get are going to be based around how many other DUI convictions -— not arrests -— you have on your record. The judge may be able to move the exact sentence around a bit in terms of how much jail time you need to see or how much you must pay in fines, but all Washington judges have a strict set of regulations that they use. These are different for each number of convictions.
Perhaps this is just your first conviction. If so, you could go to jail for as little as 24 hours or as long as one year. You could also anywhere from a rather specific $865.50 to a more general $5,000 in fines. On top of that, your license could be suspended for as little as 90 days to one full year.
If you have been convicted for a second time, your jail time starts at 30 days, but it still maxes out at one year. Your fines begin at $1,120.50 and reach up to $5,000. Your license suspension is going to be from two years to a full 900 days.
For a third conviction, jail time begins at 90 days, and, for the third time, ends at a year. The fines start at $1,970.50 and max out at $5,000. As you can see, a judge can give you the max for either a first or third conviction, but there are merely different minimums. The license suspension will be different, though, ranging from three years to four years.
In all cases, you will be made to use an ignition interlock device. This is a device with a built-in breath test. Only by passing the test are you able to start your vehicle. Not all states require this, but Washington uses it after even one conviction.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified drunk driving lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local drunk driving attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.