DUI Basics

One of the most prevalent, and most serious, charges a person can face in District or Municipal Courts is driving while under the influence or DUI.  North County Public Defense aims to provide compassionate and zealous advocacy to our clients charged with DUI.  A DUI charge is also one of the most frightening and stressful charges to receive as it's often the first encounter a person has with the criminal justice system.  


The penalties of DUI are also very strict.  A first offense DUI conviction has mandatory minimum sentences which are required by law and the judge is unable to suspend, defer, or otherwise mitigate the consequences of a first time DUI conviction.   


Mandatory Minimum sentence for a first offense DUI:

1 day in jail,

$991 fine,

90 day license suspension,

1 year ignition interlock requirement,

Court ordered drug/alcohol evaluation and treatment compliance monitored by probation,

5 years of probation. 


Mandatory Minimum sentence for a second offense DUI:

30 days in jail,

$1246 fine,

 2 year license revocation,

5 year ignition interlock requirement,

Court ordered drug/alcohol evaluation and treatment compliance monitored by probation, 

5 years of probation. 

What should I do if I've been pulled over?

Obey lawful commands: Even if you think you were pulled over unlawfully you must still obey lawful commands, such as "step out of the vehicle."  An officer can lawfully order you to DO something, like step out of the car, but an officer cannot lawfully order you to SAY anything to incriminate yourself. 

Be respectful but know your rights: Being rude, yelling, screaming, or cursing at an officer can be argued as an indicator of impairment.  Furthermore, resisting arrest (even an unlawful arrest) can lead to additional criminal charges.  That said, you may invoke your 5th amendment rights and remain silent.  You do not have to answer questions that could incriminate you.  If you politely inform the officer that you do not feel free to leave and would like to invoke your 5th amendment rights the officer will have to decide whether or not to arrest you based on the information available to them up to that point.    

You do not have to consent to field sobriety tests (FSTs) or the preliminary breath test (PBT):  The FSTs are voluntary and you are not required to complete them.  The PBT is a device the officer will have with them at the scene and you do not have to take this test.  This is different from the evidentiary breath test that are located at the jail, police stations, and possibly a mobile breath test unit. 

If you are arrested, you do not have to answer the DUI questionnaire and you are entitled to speak with an attorney:  If an officer decides to arrest you for DUI you will be taken to the jail or one of the police stations for a breath test.  The officer will read you the implied consent warnings (ICW) which inform you that you will be asked to take a breath test.  If you choose to take the breath test and your BAC is over 0.08 your driver's license will be suspended for at least 90 days.  If you refuse to take the breath test your driver's license will be suspended for at least 1 year.  The refusal can also be used against you in a criminal trial.  You also have the right to speak to an attorney about this decision.  There are signs posted at every evidentiary breath test location in Whatcom County instructing officers to call NCPD's after hours phone line.   

What should I do once I get out of jail?

Remember your court date: Once you're booked into jail you may be released before seeing a judge.  This is called "paper court," and is typically done on the weekends.  You will be released from jail with a lot of paperwork and it is your responsibility to keep track of it.  You will be given a piece of paper with a court date, time and the location and name of the court.  You are required to appear for this hearing and if you do not appear a warrant for your arrest will likely issue. 


If you are seen in the jail courtroom you will have an opportunity to speak with one of our attorneys before court.  We will discuss relevant factors regarding your release such as your contacts with the community, how long you've lived in the area, if you're employed in the area, if you have family here, and whether or not you have past warrant history among other factors.  We will advise you to enter a plea of Not Guilty and ask whether or not you plan to apply for a public defender. 


Request an administrative hearing to contest the suspension or revocation of your driver's license: If your BAC was over 0.08% as measured by the evidentiary breath test or you refused to take the breath test your driver's license may be suspended for at least 90 days by the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL).  You have the right to contest the suspension/revocation of your license before a DOL Hearings Examiner.  The hearing is conducted via telephone and costs $375 to schedule.  You must request the hearing within 7 days from the date of your arrest.  If you do not request the hearing or if you send in the hearing request form late your driver's license will be suspended.  Typically, public defense offices (both contracted and government) do not conduct these hearings on behalf of their clients.  If you have requested the hearing and you're represented by NCPD please make sure to inform us that you have requested the hearing.  


Complete an application for assigned counsel or consult with a private attorney: Once you have gone through your arraignment hearing you will have to decide to apply for assigned counsel or retain a private attorney if you haven't already.  Even if you plan to hire a private attorney it may be prudent to complete and send in an application for assigned counsel as a back up plan.  You can access the Bellingham Municipal Court application for assigned counsel by clicking the Apply For Assigned Counsel page above.  Please make sure to send applications for assigned counsel to the court and not to our office. 


Schedule a time to talk with your attorney: Once you send in your application for assigned counsel the Court will review your application.  If you are assigned a public defender you will receive a letter from NCPD informing you that we have been assigned.  You do not have to wait for the letter though!  Feel free to call and check in with NCPD regarding the status of your case.  Once the Court appoints a public defender we are sent a referral with your contact information (please keep your contact information updated with the Court and with the DOL so you receive all important correspondence) we typically receive police reports within 2 weeks of being assigned.  Feel free to contact NCPD and schedule an appointment to discuss your case with your attorney.  

What should I do before my case resolves? 

Schedule a time to talk with your attorney:  Yes, this gets two mentions.  Maintaining good contact with your attorney is that important!  When you meet with your attorney you will discuss a lot of topics and it can be overwhelming.    In general, you will discuss 3 main topics with your attorney.  Those topics are: 

  1. Legal and/or Factual Issues regarding your case: Your attorney will review the police reports, any witness statements, and video evidence regarding your case.  It is important that you tell your attorney (but ONLY your attorney) everything you remember about the facts of your case.  Your attorney will cover the 4 main issues that can be present in a DUI case.  Those issues are: 1) whether the initial stop was lawful, 2) whether the officer had probable cause to arrest you, 3) whether you understood and were properly informed of your options under the implied consent law, and 4) whether the analysis of your breath or blood alcohol level was conducted properly.  
  2. Scheduling evaluations and the Victim Impact Panel (VIP): Your attorney will give you a list of agencies that offer drug/alcohol evaluations and that list is also available on our Treatment Resources page above.  The faster you can schedule and complete these evaluations and the VIP the faster your case can resolve.  
  3. Discuss the risks and benefits of a negotiated resolution versus trial: Your attorney will give your their advice and opinions regarding what a negotiated resolution may entail as well as what evidence will be presented at trial and the likely outcome at trial.  While most cases resolve via a negotiated resolution NCPD attorneys will always respect your constitutional right to a trial by jury.    

Appear in court for pre-trial hearings: Your physical presence in court may be waived if you sign off on a waiver of presence and contact NCPD before your court date.  Please contact NCPD at least 1 week prior to your scheduled pre-trial hearing if you do not want to physically appear in court.  With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic most Courts prefer to waive your physical presence if your case is not resolving or being set for trial at your pre-trial hearing.  There are certain hearings where your physical appearance will not be waived, however, those hearings are: 

  1. Violations of pre-trial release conditions:  If you are alleged to have violated the terms of your pre-trial release such as using or possessing intoxicants, being charged with additional crimes, or failing to comply with pre-trial monitoring you must physically appear in court for that hearing.         
  2. Appearance or bench warrant: If you did not physically appear in court and your hearing was set over for your appearance you must physically appear.  
  3. Trial date scheduling:  If you have decided to exercise your right to a jury trial NCPD requests that you be physically present at your next pre-trial hearing so we can set a trial date that works for you.  Setting a trial date can be a complicated process.  The availability of you, your attorney, the prosecutor, and any witnesses must be taken into consideration.  The more witnesses in a trial the more schedules have to be analyzed. 
  4. Probation Violation Hearings:  If you are alleged to have violated the terms of probation you must physically appear at that hearing.  

What should I do once my case resolves? 


Once your case resolves you may have a number of things you'll need to do.  Keep in mind this section is intended to help people navigate their obligations post-conviction either via a negotiated resolution or a conviction after trial.  If your case is dismissed or you're found not guilty you have no further obligations!


Fines: You may have fines to pay.  You will get a piece of paper that instructs you how to set up payment arrangements with the court.  If you cannot afford to make the payments please contact your attorney. 


Jail Alternatives: You may be granted the opportunity to serve your jail sentence on a GPS device (often called an ankle monitor) through Friendship Diversion Services (FDS).  You will be given paperwork that has FDS's contact information.  Make sure to call them the day you're sentenced and set up an appointment to have the device installed.  FDS can be reached at: 


Friendship Diversion Services Bellingham

102 Ohio Street Bellingham, WA 98225

Office Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30am - 5:30pm 

Phone: (360) 392-3981

Fax: (360) 392-3984

Email: bellingham@friendshipdiversion.org 


You may be placed on probation if the crime with which you were convicted involved or was precipitated by the use of alcohol or drugs.  If you are placed on probation please see the next section.  Remember, probation is only as hard as you make it!  


Active Probation: After resolving your case you must immediately report to the Whatcom County District Court Probation Department, located at the Whatcom County Courthouse 311 Grand Ave, Bellingham WA 98225.   You will need to bring your photo ID and fill out an intake form.  You will be given an intake appointment with a probation office and may be required to schedule a urinalysis test within 2 weeks.  You will then be required to meet with your probation officer periodically to discuss your progress with treatment and check your record. 


Here are some helpful tips to ensure success while on probation:


  1. Do not use alcohol or non-prescribed drugs while on probation. 
  2. Do not use marijuana, even medical marijuana, unless the use of marijuana has been approved by the court. 
  3. The first urinalysis is only a baseline for marijuana.  Regular marijuana users can test positive for marijuana weeks or even months after cessation of use.  As long as the levels of marijuana in your system are going down at a stead rate you will probably not receive a violation.  The first urinalysis is NOT a baseline for other kinds of drugs or alcohol.   
  4. Show up to your appointments.  At the beginning of probation you are afforded the opportunity to schedule urinalysis tests and appointments with your probation officer at times that work for you.  If you do not keep your appointments you will be violated, have to appear in court to address the violation, and may be required to schedule additional appointments with your probation officer. 
  5. Keep in mind that probation is, generally, only has hard as you make it.  NCPD is here to help in any way we can.  If you need assistance with probation, even if we're no longer assigned to your case, please feel free to give us a call.    

If you have any questions about probation please contact your attorney.  You can also visit the probation department's website here:  https://www.whatcomcounty.us/454/District-Court-Probation