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Understanding Washington's implied consent law

One of Washington's most powerful weapons for enforcing its drunk driving laws is the so-called "implied consent law." While many Washington drivers may have heard of this law, very few understand how it may affect them. The implied consent statute provides a method by which police officers can compel drivers to submit to a test of their sobriety before deciding whether to charge them with one or more drunk driving offenses.

The law is based upon a legislatively created presumption that everyone who operates a motor vehicle within the state has given his or her consent to submit to a test of his or her blood alcohol content as measured by a standardized breath sampling test. Therefore, if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person was driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated, the officer can direct the person to submit to a breath test. If the person refuses, his or her license is automatically suspended for at least one year. The officer must provide adequate warning to the driver of the consequences of refusing the test and of being convicted of drunk driving. A refusal to take the test can be introduced into evidence during a trial to determine if the person was intoxicated.

The automatic suspension of a driver's license for refusal to take a breath test is an administrative proceeding that is not directly related to the criminal charge of driving while intoxicated. A driver who refuses a breath test may appeal the revocation decision by paying a $375 filing fee and giving notice of the appeal within 20 days after receiving written notice of the revocation. An adverse decision on the appeal can be appealed to the superior court in the county where the arrest occurred.

The implied consent statute is very complex. Anyone who has either refused an implied consent request or has failed a breath test may wish to consult a lawyer who is experienced in handling DUI cases. Such a consultation can provide a helpful analysis of the law and facts of the case, as well as an estimate of the likelihood of obtaining a favorable plea agreement or an outright acquittal.

Source: Revised Code of Washington, "RCW 46.20.308, Implied consent-Test refusal-Procedures," accessed on Sep. 11, 2017