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Understanding Washington State's DUI Laws: RCW 46.61.502(6)(a) and Standard Field Sobriety Tests

Updated: Mar 16, 2023


Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense in Washington State, and the consequences can be severe. In 2016, the state legislature made a significant change to the DUI laws under RCW 46.61.502(6)(a). This statute elevates a DUI charge from a gross misdemeanor to a felony if the defendant has "four or more prior offenses within ten years as defined in RCW 46.61.5055." Let's take a closer look at this law and other related statutes.


Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious offense that can have devastating consequences. In Washington state, the penalties for DUI are severe, and they become even more serious if the defendant has prior DUI convictions. Under former RCW 46.61.502(6)(a) (2016), driving under the influence is elevated from a gross misdemeanor to a felony if the defendant has "four or more prior offenses within ten years as defined in RCW 46.61.5055." This means that if you are convicted of a DUI and have four or more prior DUI convictions within the past ten years, you will be charged with a felony, which carries much more severe penalties.


But how do police officers determine if someone is driving under the influence? There are a number of tests that can be administered to determine if a driver is impaired, and one of the most common is the Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST).

The SFST is a battery of tests that are designed to measure a driver's impairment. In Washington state, the three tests that are commonly used are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the Walk and Turn, and the Single-leg Stand.


The HGN test measures the involuntary jerking of one's eye when it gazes to the side. This jerking can be exaggerated by alcohol consumption, so officers use it as an indicator of impairment. However, it's important to note that the HGN test merely shows physical signs consistent with the ingestion of intoxicants. An officer may not testify in a manner that casts an "aura of scientific certainty to the testimony." This means that while the HGN test can be a useful tool, it cannot be used to predict the specific level of alcohol or drugs in your system.


The Walk and Turn test is used to measure coordination, balance, and the ability to follow instructions simultaneously. During the test, the driver is asked to take nine steps, heel to toe, along a straight line, turn on one foot, and take nine steps back. The officer is looking for indicators of impairment, such as losing balance, stepping off the line, or failing to follow instructions.


The Single-leg Stand test measures a driver's ability to balance on one leg for a period of time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has determined that 30 seconds is a threshold amount of time for this test. Even very intoxicated individuals can sometimes last 25 seconds.


It's important to note that these tests are not foolproof, and many factors can influence their results. For example, a person's physical condition, the weather, and the terrain can all affect the outcome of these tests. Additionally, some people may have medical conditions that make it difficult or impossible for them to perform these tests, even when sober.


If you are arrested for a DUI in Washington state, you will be required to submit to a breath test to determine your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Under RCW 46.20.308, any person who operates a motor vehicle within the state is deemed to have given consent to a breath test if arrested for any offense where the arresting officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person had been driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug.


RCW 46.61.502(6)(a) Explained


Under RCW 46.61.502(6)(a), a DUI charge can be elevated to a felony if the defendant has four or more prior DUI offenses within ten years. These prior offenses must be defined in RCW 46.61.5055, which is a separate statute that sets out the criteria for what qualifies as a prior offense.


The penalties for a felony DUI conviction can include significant jail time, fines, and other consequences that can affect a person's life for years to come. Therefore, it is critical to understand the DUI laws in Washington State and to take steps to avoid a conviction.

Implied Consent and Test Refusal: RCW 46.20.308


RCW 46.20.308 establishes the concept of "implied consent" in Washington State. This means that any person who operates a motor vehicle within the state is deemed to have given consent to a breath test if they are arrested for a DUI-related offense. Refusal to take a breath test can result in additional penalties, including the suspension of the driver's license.


In summary, the law also outlines procedures that law enforcement must follow when administering a breath test.


Conclusion


In conclusion, driving under the influence is a serious offense that can have long-lasting consequences. If you have prior DUI convictions and are convicted of another DUI in Washington state, you could be charged with a felony. If you are pulled over for suspicion of DUI, it's important for drivers to be responsible and avoid driving while under the influence to prevent putting themselves and others in danger. If you find yourself facing a DUI speak with an attorney as soon as possible.

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