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DUI Court Process

1. DUI Arraignment

The first court hearing in the Washington State DUI process is the arraignment. If you miss this hearing, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. At the arraignment hearing, the court will enter your plea (consult with an attorney before entering a plea) and set conditions for your release.

Conditions of release will be based on whether you pose a safety risk to the community and whether you pose a flight risk. To determine this risk, the judge will consider factors such as your past criminal history, your ties to the community, and your breath test result or refusal.

Conditions of release may include:
  • Bail or bond
  • Prohibiting consumption of alcohol and non-prescribed mood-altering drugs
  • Requiring submission to breath or blood test if requested by law enforcement
  • Requiring that vehicles only be driven with a valid license and state required insurance
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device in any personal vehicle
  • Requiring that there be no new criminal violations

The types of conditions that may be imposed vary widely depending on the jurisdiction of the WA State court. For example, Tacoma, Seattle, Kent, Olympia and Lakewood, WA are jurisdictions that aggressively prosecute DUI charges. It is a good idea to have an experienced DUI attorney present at arraignment, to avoid any surprises and mitigate unpleasant consequences.

When will I be Arraigned?

Your arraignment date will depend on the court where your charges are filed. In Tacoma and Puyallup Municipal Court, the arraignment date is normally the next business day after the arrest. In Seattle and King County, the arraignment date is normally within 30 days of the arrest. If you are charged in Pierce County District Court, the arraignment date is typically within two weeks of the arrest date. Even though DUI arraignment dates are generally set within 30 days of the incident, the prosecutor has up to 2 years to file charges.

2. Pretrial Hearing

The pretrial hearing is the first opportunity to negotiate the individual case. If a favorable negotiation occurs, the case can be resolved at this hearing. However, more than one pretrial hearing is often necessary to negotiate the best possible outcome. Your defense attorney will need sufficient time to receive all information related to your arrest, allowing for a thorough investigation. If the case does not resolve during one of the pretrial hearings, an evidentiary hearing date will be set.

3. Evidentiary/Motion Hearing

At the evidentiary or motion hearing, the judge will determine what evidence may or may not be admissible if the case were to go to trial. Often, the police will testify at this hearing. Your DUI lawyer will have an opportunity to cross examine the police officer(s).

The court will then hear legal arguments and issue a ruling about the evidence. It is important that your lawyer makes a strong and compelling argument to suppress evidence, as doing so will weaken the case against you. If the hearing is successful, it can result in a favorable settlement or DUI dismissal, avoiding the risk and time of trial.

4. Trial

If a resolution in a case is not reached, then the case would be set for trial. A DUI trial can be either by jury or by judge. At trial, the defense will argue that there should not be a conviction, based on insufficient evidence in the case. The prosecutor will present evidence through the testimony of law enforcement officers, expert witnesses, and civilian witnesses (if any). Your attorney will then cross examine the State's witnesses and may also present evidence through the testimony of expert and civilian witnesses.

At the end of the trial, the jury or judge will make a finding of either guilty or not guilty. If there is a not guilty finding, the DUI is dismissed. If the finding is guilty, a conviction will be entered. A DUI unfortunately cannot be later sealed, expunged, or vacated in Washington State. If there was an error in the law or an incorrect evidentiary ruling, then the next step in the DUI process is an appeal to a higher court. DUI appeals are uncommon in WA State.

Resolving your Case

The question of how to resolve your case depends on the facts of your case, the deal your attorney negotiated, and your risk tolerance for a DUI trial. At Beckwith Law, our DUI lawyers can normally negotiate a better result than if the case were to go to trial. In fact, the great majority of first time DUI clients that we represent (over 95%) are able to completely avoid a DUI conviction.

However, trial experience is essential to a good defense. The prosecutor must know that your lawyer is prepared to go to trial if necessary, so it is important that your lawyer has this skill set and is prepared for trial.

Beckwith Law has a proven track record for negotiating significant reductions and case dismissals in the courts of Pierce County, King County, Thurston County, Snohomish County & Kitsap County. We can be called any day of the week (including after-hours) for a free DUI consultation.