Local news

Lawmakers propose tougher DUI penalties

OLYMPIA – Drunken drivers would face stiffer penalties, including a tripling of mandatory jail time on a first conviction, under proposals being considered by the Legislature.

First-time offenders would spend three days in jail, rather than the current one day, if they had less than double the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content allowed by state law when arrested. They’d spend a week behind bars, rather than two days, if they had two or more times the legal limit, under a bill considered Monday by the House Judiciary Committee

“One day isn’t quite enough,” said state Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma. “We wanted to get people’s attention early on in this process.”

That and other strengthened penalties drew support from victims of drunken drivers, who described how they’d lost family members or been permanently injured by someone driving under the influence.

“This is just a baby step, to send a message that drunk driving is no longer tolerated,” said Carol Jones Blair, who broke into tears when describing how her daughter was killed by a drunk driver in Everett last February.

But Patricia Fulton, a representative of criminal defense lawyers, said the proposal could end up costing cities and counties money. Even though the bill calls for offenders to pay for their incarceration, only 30 percent do that now, Fulton said.

If they are going to be affected by time in jail, the one or two days they now spend will do that, she argued. It would be more effective to expand the use of ignition interlocks that register a person’s blood-alcohol content, and treatment, she said.

One other proposal before the Judiciary Committee would expand ignition interlocks, requiring them to be used in cases where a person is first charged with DUI but allowed to plead to a lesser offense such as negligent or reckless driving. That proposal also expands the list of offenses that can lead to a person being charged with felony DUI, but would allow a person to receive two deferred prosecutions under some circumstances, rather than the current limit of one.

Under current law, a person with four DUI convictions in 10 years faces a felony that carries a minimum sentence of 22 months in prison. Another proposal discussed Monday would remove the 10-year limitation on offenses counted toward a felony DUI, and allow the court to count convictions in other states. Another proposal calls for special DUI courts across the state similar to the pilot program in Spokane County.

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