Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: Our firm is open and serving the needs to existing and new clients. Click here for more information.
Serving Skagit,
Island, Whatcom and
Snohomish Counties


DUI stands for "Driving while Under the Influence". In the past, the same crime of DUI was called DWI, which stands for "Driving While under the Influence". DUI and DWI are the same criminal charge; as is "Drunk Driving." The criminal charge is a gross misdemeanor, which means the maximum punishment is 364 days in county jail and a $5,000.00 fine. However, if you have three prior convictions (as defined by the statute/law) within in ten year period you can be charged with a Felony DUI. A charge of Felony DUI is a class B felony, which means the maximum punishment is 10 years in prison and a $20,000.00 fine.

How is DUI Established?

DUI can be committed in alternative ways in the State of Washington. The first and most commonly known way to commit a DUI is when a person operates a motor vehicle when their Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is equal to or greater then .08 percent. They can also establish this by a blood draw, most commonly taken when a person has been in an accident or is unable to provide a breath sample. In a case where the BAC or blood is equal to or greater then .08 percent the prosecution need not prove that an individual was affected by alcohol. However, they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the BAC was .08 or greater. Establishing the reliability and accuracy of this BAC reading, whether proper statutory protocols were followed, can be more difficult and complicated then an individual might initially anticipate.

A second method of establishing DUI is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is under the influence, to an extent that their ability to operate a motor vehicle is appreciably affected. In some instances, an individual could be under the legal limit (.08), however, their ability to operate the vehicle in a safe manner has been affected by the consumption of alcohol. In many cases, this alternative way of proving DUI will be the only option for the Prosecution when an individual has refused to provide a BAC or blood sample.

A third alternative of establishing DUI is by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is under the influence of drugs, to an extent that their ability to operate a motor vehicle is appreciably affected. There is no specific type of drug that is required to establish this alternative way of proving DUI. The drug can be either an "illegal" or from a "legal prescription", so long as it appreciably affects an individual's ability to operate a motor vehicle.

Finally, DUI can be established by showing that a person is under the influence of the combined affect of both drugs and alcohol, to an extent that their ability to operate a motor vehicle is appreciably affect.

RCW 46.61.502

Is Physical Control the Same Thing as DUI?

Physical Control is simply another way for the prosecution to show a person was under the influence while in a motor vehicle. The difference between DUI and Physical Control is that with Physical Control a person does not need to be operating the motor vehicle. As the word suggests, a person must be under the influence while in physical control of a motor vehicle. The crime is most commonly charged when a person has passed out behind the wheel of a stopped or parked vehicle. However, the crime has often been stretched to apply to situations where an individual is intoxicated but has made the decision not to drive. In these situations, individuals will often enter their car to "sleep it off". However, the same individual will turn their car on to make the interior warm and open themselves up to the possibility of being charged with Physical Control. A number of defenses can be raised in these situations. One of the primary defenses examines whether the vehicle was safely off the roadway and/or whether the vehicle was truly made "readily operable" in a manner that is unsafe.

RCW 46.61.504

Driving Under 21 Years of Age After Consuming Alcohol

Often misstated as "Minor DUI", this crime involves an individual under the age of twenty-one who has an alcohol concentration of .02 to .0799, and is not the same as driving under the influence. If a minor is driving under the influence or with a breath alcohol concentration of .08 percent or greater they will be charged with DUI. However, a minor who operates a motor vehicle who is not driving under the influence (DUI) can still be charged with a crime of driving with alcohol in their system when the percentage is equal to or greater then .02. For most individuals this would be much less then a single standard 12 oz beer.

RCW 46.61.503

Driving a Commercial Vehicle With a Breath Alcohol Concentration of .04

Similar to minor operating a motor vehicle while consuming alcohol, the legislature has made the laws more restrictive when a person is operating a commercial vehicle. The law prohibits the operation of a commercial motor vehicle while the alcohol concentration in the persons system is .04 percent or more.

RCW 46.20.120
See Also RCW 46.20.110

Boating While Under the Influence

Drug and alcohol related criminal charges are not limited to operating a personal or commercial vehicle. However, unlike DUI, Boating Under the Influence of intoxicating alcohol or drugs (BUI) is a misdemeanor offense and does not involve a license suspension. To establish this criminal offense, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person was operating a vessel while under the influence. This means that the person has a breath or blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher, or is affected by intoxicating liquor and/or any drug to an "appreciable degree."