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Judge John E. Turner (Ret.)

Lawmakers toughen DUI laws after surge in drunk driving

Lawmakers in Washington have taken action after witnessing a surge in drunk driving. Tougher DUI rules go into effect on Aug.1, and they prevent motorists who are discovered to have blood alcohol levels of .12 percent or higher from pleading guilty to a lesser charge. Prosecutors say that the measure was adopted after seeing a sharp rise in DUIs in the first part of 2016 compared to the comparable period in the previous year.

Motorists cited for drunk driving before Aug. 1 will face penalties under the current Washington DUI guidelines even if their blood alcohol level would trigger more severe penalties under the new rules. However, those who are charged with felony drunk driving after causing an accident resulting in serious injury or death will not be able to plead guilty to a lesser charge as this option is not available under either the current or incoming guidelines.

Washington has some of the nation's strictest drunk driving laws, and even motorists with blood alcohol levels below the .08 percent legal limit may face penalties for getting behind the wheel while impaired. Commercial vehicle drivers in Washington with blood alcohol levels of .04 percent or above may face drunk driving charges, and motorists under the age of 21 can be cited for DUI with a blood alcohol levels as low as .02 percent.

Prosecutors are watched closely and judged based upon their results, and they may be willing to settle cases quickly to reduce their workloads even when their evidence is strong. The incoming Washington drunk driving rules seem to be aimed at reducing negotiated plea arrangements, but this could cause even more congestion in the criminal justice system as the number of cases going to trial may increase sharply. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek more lenient treatment for their clients during plea discussions with prosecutors, but they could also advocate fiercely on their behalf before a court if this option is not available.

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