Law Blog

Changes to Washington DUI Sentencing Laws Coming January 1, 2022

When the Washington Legislature updated RCW 46.61.5055, amongst others, it made some important updates to how individuals are sentenced for DUI or Physical Control.  While not comprehensive, this post will cover the substantive changes and hopefully help you understand the law a little better.

First Offense / No Prior Offenses Within 7 Years

If you were convicted of DUI, it was previously MANDATORY that you serve at least 24 hours in jail (or 48 hours for a refusal / above 0.15).  The law mandated that the only way a judge could waive that requirement was if serving time in jail would “impose a substantial risk to the offender’s physical or mental well-being.”  While jail time for any sane person would be stressful and not the least bit fun, most people would not be able to meet this burden.  And it was unfortunate, because many folks are sufficiently chastened after being charged with a DUI that jail time seemed unnecessary.  It appears that the legislature may have had the same conclusion.

Starting in 2022, the court has discretion (i.e. it’s up to the judge) to order 15 days or more of Electronic Home Monitoring (EHM) in lieu of jail time. So if a first time offender quickly completes their evaluation, starts treatment, and does other things often required by courts, then the chances of avoiding a day in jail are probably lessened.  Like before, if 24/7 sobriety monitoring was required pretrial, then the court may consider that monitoring as fulfilling a portion of post-trial sentencing.

Second Offense / 1 Prior Within 7 Years

The legislature has shown less flexibility to those charged with a second offense within 7 years (date of arrest or conviction).  For a “second in seven”, the legislature requires that the jail term (30 or 45 days respectively) can only be suspended when there is a substantial risk to the person’s physical or mental well-being.  In the past, the judge was still required to impose either EHM or sobriety monitoring, but they still had to impose a minimum jail term, even if they found there was a substantial risk to the defendant.  Now the court an waive the jail term and impose EHM/sobriety monitoring, but must state in an order the reason it is granting the alternative sentence and the facts upon which it is relying.  The court is also required to order an expanded substance use disorder assessment and order treatment if deemed appropriate by the treatment provider (this is likely for anyone getting a second DUI or similar offense within seven years.  Like first offenses, the court can consider the imposition of a 24/7 sobriety monitoring program as fulfilling a portion of post-trial sentencing.

Third Offense / 2 Priors Within 7 Years

Like the second offense above, the imposition of a 90 or 120 day jail term may only be suspended or converted upon a finding of substantial risk.  If that is shown, the court is allowed to suspend the combined requirements of jail and EHM for a 360 day period of sobriety monitoring or EHM. An expanded substance abuse assessment, and treatment if recommended, is also required.

Penalties for Having Minors in the Vehicle

For every minor under the age of 16 in the car, the court is required to require the use of an Ignition Interlock Device for an additional 12 or 18 months (increased from 6), depending on whether the person had a BAC above 0.15 or refused the breath test at the station.    For those with no priors, an additional 24 hours in jail shall be served consecutively to the sentence imposed as described above, and fines of at least $1000 (up to $5000) imposed for each minor passenger. These fines cannot be suspended unless the court finds the defendant indigent.  For those with one prior offense, the jail time and fines increase to 5 days and $2000 for each passenger, and for two priors, 10 days and $3000.  Remember, these jail terms must be served consecutively, meaning that if 2 children under 16 are in the car, a person with 1 prior must serve an additional 10 days in jail and pay $4000 on top of the 30 or 45 days mandated by law.