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What Is The Difference Between A Civil Drunk Driving Lawsuit and A Criminal DUI Case?

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Drinking and driving is highly illegal in Washington state. If you are arrested and charged with DUI, you will face criminal charges that can result in severe penalties. However, victims of drunk driving accidents have the right to pursue civil litigation while pressing criminal charges. If you are facing criminal and civil penalties for driving under the influence (DUI), it is important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

What Is a Criminal DUI Case?

In Washington, any person who is found driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs will face criminal charges. A drunk driver is anyone who operates a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher. If you are arrested for DUI, the police will forward your case to a state prosecutor, who will decide whether or not to pursue criminal charges.

If the prosecutor decides to pursue the case, you will move into the Washington criminal justice system and the court will decide whether you are guilty of a DUI crime. All defendants convicted of a criminal DUI in Washington will receive a five-year probation and a mandatory drug and alcohol assessment. The state may also impose the following penalties.

  • First Offense: Between 24 hours to 364 days in prison or 60–90 days of electronic home monitoring (EHM); fines between $823–$5,000; license suspension for 90 days to 1–2 years; use of an ignition interlock device for one year. 
  • Second Offense: Between 30–364 days in jail or 60–90 days of EHM; fines between $1,015 to $5,000; a two-to-three-year license suspension; use of an ignition interlock device for five years.
  • Third and Subsequent Offenses: Between 90–364 days in jail or 120–150 days of EHM; fines between $1,805–$5,000; a three-to-four-year license suspension; use of an ignition interlock device for 10 years.

The severity of criminal penalties in DUI cases will depend on the number of previous offenses and whether or not the defendant took a breath test. Defendants with a BAC of 0.15 or higher will also face more severe penalties than drivers with a lower BAC above the legal limit. 

What Is a Civil DUI Case?

Criminal cases are intended to punish the defendant, rather than help the victim recover from his or her injuries. While a victim may receive restitution, it may not be enough to pay for medical care, vehicle repairs, and other losses. As a result, many victims pursue drunk driving lawsuits in Washington civil court against the drunk driver.

Through a civil lawsuit, victims can recover a settlement that pays for the losses that they experienced due to the accident, such as medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages. Instead of facing criminal penalties, the defendant will be financially responsible for paying for this settlement.

To recover this compensation, the victim will need to prove that the defendant’s negligent actions caused his or her accident and resulting injuries. This is a much lower burden of proof than criminal cases, where the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant drank and drive. 

Civil and criminal DUI litigation can be a stressful and scary experience. If you are facing drunk driving charges, it is critical to contact a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. The lawyers at The Law Offices Of Mark S. Treyz can evaluate your case and identify the optimal legal strategy to achieve the best possible outcome. 

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