Washington State courts generally follow a sentencing grid when making determinations on how much jail time someone will serve if convicted of a driving under the influence (DUI) charge.
For the most part, courts follow these guidelines closely, but certain factors can play into whether a sentence is increased or decreased, otherwise known as sentencing enhancements.
What Are Sentencing Enhancements?
In the State of Washington, sentence enhancements are used to adjust the sentence given to a defendant in a criminal case.
Sentence enhancements are facts or circumstances in the crime that can make it seem worse or more dangerous, which will allow a judge to increase the sentence being issued.
For a DUI offense, these factors can include prior conviction, high blood alcohol concentration of the defendant, the presence of minors during the incident, or injuries or death resulting from the incident.
One of the biggest factors leading up to an increase in a sentence is if the person has prior convictions for a DUI or DUI-related offense on his or her record.
For every prior DUI conviction, the penalty goes up, essentially meaning the amount of time in jail increases based on the number of offenses, as well as the degree of offenses.
In Washington, if an offender has more than four misdemeanor offenses over a period of ten years and then is arrested again for a DUI, that person’s next offense will be considered a felony offense. This qualification happens regardless of how low the driver’s blood alcohol content may be.
High Blood-Alcohol Concentration
The State of Washington increases the penalties given to DUI offenders who have what is known as “enhanced blood-alcohol concentration.” An enhanced BAC level normally refers to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15% or greater, which is almost twice the legal limit of 0.08%.
For a DUI conviction with a BAC greater than 0.15%, the defendant must serve a minimum of 48 hours, but no more than 364 days in jail. However, if the offender has an enhanced BAC, he or she will be given a minimum of $1,000 fine and one to two years of driver’s license suspension, as well as the ignition interlock penalty and up to five years of probation.
The purpose of this stricter sentence is to deter the defendant from committing the offense again and to protect the safety of those on the road.
Presence of Passengers or Minors
An additional consideration that prosecutors take into account is the presence of other passengers or minors.
If another person was in the car while the driver was operating the vehicle while under the influence, the prosecutor can add a reckless endangerment charge. The judge may view the driver as being reckless in endangering the safety of others in the car.
A court will look even less favorably on the actions of the intoxicated driver if children were in the car.
Compliance with the Arresting Officer
The driver’s behavior at the time of the arrest may affect the sentence, as well. For instance, if the driver refused to take the breath test at the station, the court will consider this behavior in determining whether a sentence enhancement is needed.
If the driver accosted the arresting officer or deliberately tried to evade an arrest, the court may use this to enhance the sentence also.
Injuries or Death Resulting from Incident
Another serious issue that could result in the court issuing a harsher sentence is whether any bodily injuries or death resulted from the driver’s operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Not only will this result in very serious felony charges, but the sentence often requires time in prison.
Courts view drunk drivers as a risk to the community and often levy sentences to ensure that 1) the driver does not get behind the wheel again and 2) the driver remains incarcerated to protect the safety of others on the road or in the community.
Any drunk driving incident resulting in injuries or death to others will almost always guarantee that the DUI will be charged as a felony. If injuries or death have resulted, it is also highly recommended that the defendant hire an attorney to help him or her in the matter.