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Judge John E. Turner (Ret.)

Washington poised to strengthen DUI penalties

After years of procedural delays in the state legislature, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has a chance to sign a bill that would classify the fourth DUI in 10 years as a felony that requires a prison sentence of 13 to 17 months. Existing state laws regarding drunk driving have been the weakest in the country. Under existing law, someone could be arrested for drunk driving five times before facing felony charges.

The effort to reform criminal classifications for repeat drunk driving offenses has floundered since 2013. Although the bill passed committees in the Senate or House multiple times, it never made it through a full vote until now.

The state senator promoting the bill enjoyed the support of the City of Seattle, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and law enforcement. He said that repeat offenders tended to be the perpetrators of vehicular homicides, and getting them off the road would save lives. Opponents of the reforms expressed concern that simply imprisoning people would impose extra costs on taxpayers. A few representatives in the House wanted the new law to offer treatment to offenders instead of time behind bars.

In a landscape of shifting laws, a person arrested for drunk driving could gain information from an attorney regarding the meaning of criminal charges and the potential penalties. An attorney might suggest defense strategies that could limit fines, time in jail or duration of license suspension. When possible, an attorney might challenge the validity of the sobriety test if law enforcement made mistakes while administering it. Another potential challenge could be to the traffic stop itself as not being made with the required reasonable suspicion.

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