Coronavirus and DUI Cases

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Marked as “ground zero” of the Coronavirus pandemic, nearly every Washingtonian has been impacted, to some degree, by the effects of this deadly virus. Amid this unprecedented time, if you or a loved one has been arrested for a DUI, the added stress can be overwhelming and terrifying. If you are unsure about the best way to handle your arrest in the midst of this outbreak, you are not alone.

The criminal justice system is not immune to pandemics and the virus has had sweeping effects on how Washington courts operate. These effects include statewide court closures, delays in charging decisions, and an increased backlog of DUI blood testing at the toxicology lab. These added complications mean that now more than ever, it’s critical to be informed on what to expect after you are arrested for a DUI and how to be prepared for the best possible defense.

Following your arrest for a DUI, one of the first impacts of COVID-19 that you may experience is a delay in the prosecutor’s decision to charge you with the crime. In Washington State, when the police arrest you for a DUI, they refer their report to a prosecutor who then decides if you should be charged with the crime. Under the Washington State Statute of Limitations, the prosecutor has two years from the date of your arrest to charge you with a DUI. Therefore, beginning on the date you are arrested, a clock starts ticking and just one day after this two-year mark, a prosecutor loses all power to charge you with this crime. While prosecutors typically only take 4-6 weeks to make this decision, holding them accountable to this deadline and ensuring they get no additional time to charge you is a critical aspect of your rights. However, as a result of COVID-19, this law and timeline has been changed.

On April 14, 2020 Governor Jay Inslee suspended the Statute of Limitations for all criminal charges for one month, until May 14, 2020. This means that if you were arrested for a DUI but have not yet been charged, the clock ticking towards the two-year deadline has been stopped until May 14, 2020. This gives prosecutors a 30-day extension on their deadline to charge you with a crime. This extension also means that if you have not yet been charged, you will likely experience a months-long delay before your first court date. For example, Seattle Municipal Court recently released an Order mandating that unless you are in-custody, all court hearings will not occur until after July 31, 2020. Further, if your blood was drawn to determine your potential alcohol or drug levels, the only toxicology lab that tests these samples will almost certainly experience backlogs and delays in testing.

While COVID -19 has slowed down many aspects of a DUI, there is a critical component that continues to operate at its regular pace. This aspect of a DUI is the administrative licensing process. In Washington State if you blow over .08 on a formal breath test at the station or you refuse a formal breath test, the DOL will take your license away within 30 days of the date of your arrest. You only have one chance to stop this suspension and that requires you to request a hearing within 7 days of the date of your arrest. COVID-19 has not slowed or paused this 7-day deadline and if it passes, you will have no chance to stop the possible suspension of your license. You also have almost no chance to prevail at your licensing hearing without the assistance of an experienced attorney.

As you process these COVID-19 updates, we would like to remind you of 3 key steps to take after you are arrested for a DUI that have not changed:

  1. If your breath test result was over the legal limit of .08, or you refused to take a breath test at the police station, then you only have 7 days to try and save your license with the Department of Licensing. If you do not request a DOL hearing within 7 days of your arrest, then you will automatically lose your license within 30 days.
  2. As soon as possible following your arrest, write down everything you remember about this experience. This includes your memories of what you were doing in the hour(s) leading up to getting in the car, the moments prior to police pulling you over or interacting with you, the roadside tests you performed, if any, and what occurred at the police station. While these memories may seem vivid now, they will likely fade quickly and it’s essential to your defense that they be preserved as many successful DUI defenses rely on small, technical details.
  3. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to receive advice on your very specific case, the status of your license, and the steps to take in order to ensure you have the best defense possible.

Here at Horwath Law, we offer free consultations and if you have been arrested for a DUI, please call us right away at 253-649-2641.