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What Is the Difference Between Physical Control and DUI?

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In Washington state, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious crime. These substances can impair a person’s motor skills, judgement, and ability to react to dangerous situations while on the road. As a result, the state can impose severe penalties with DUI convictions, including jail time, fines, and license suspension.

However, you can receive a criminal DUI charge for being in a car while intoxicated, even if you are not driving the vehicle. This is because of physical control laws, which state that drivers cannot be in control of a vehicle while under the influence – even if it is not moving.

What Does Physical Control Mean?

Under Washington law, you can receive the same penalties for being in physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated as you do for driving a vehicle while intoxicated. If you are under the influence, inside of a vehicle, and could begin driving at any point, you could receive a physical control charge, even if you do not intend to begin driving. You could be in the driver’s seat, the passenger seat, or the backseat.

There are many situations where police officers could charge you with being in physical control of a vehicle, including the following.

  • You are a passenger in the car, and you assume control by moving to the driver’s seat or touching the steering wheel.
  • You are sitting in your vehicle with your keys in the ignition.
  • Your car broke down or ran out of gas, and you are sitting in it in the side of the road.
  • You decide to sleep in your car overnight.
  • You decide to enter your vehicle to sober up after a night out.

BAC Thresholds for DUI and Physical Control

To determine if you are under the influence, police officers will administer a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test. If your BAC meets or exceeds the thresholds that the law sets, you could receive a physical control or DUI charge. If you refuse to take a BAC test, you could receive additional charges.

You must be under the influence of alcohol, drugs, marijuana, or a combination of any of these substances for police to charge you with DUI or physical control.

Police use the following BAC thresholds to charge you with a DUI.

  • You have a BAC of .08% or higher.
  • You have a THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, concentration of 5.00 or higher.

They use the following BAC thresholds to charge you with physical control.

  • You have a BAC of .08% or higher within 2 hours of being in physical control of your vehicle.
  • You have a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher within 2 hours of being in physical control.

Penalties for Physical Control versus DUI

In the state of Washington, physical control is a gross misdemeanor charge. You will receive the same criminal and administrative penalties for physical control as you would for a DUI, including jail time, fines, driver’s license suspensions, probation, and more. The specific penalties you will receive depends on the circumstances of your case.

DUI penalties in Washington include the following.

  • A first-offense DUI is punishable by a fine between $350 and $5,000, up to 364 days in jail, and various administrative penalties such as a 90-day driver’s license suspension and the installation of an ignition interlock device.
  • Second-offense DUIs involve fines between $500 to $5,000 and between 30 to 364 days in jail. You may also receive a two-year suspension and an ignition interlock device.
  • Third-offense DUIs are punishable by jail sentences between 90 to 364 days, six months in a sobriety program, and a fine between $1,000 and $5,000. They also involve a three-year license revocation and the installation of an ignition interlock device.

These penalties may increase if you have a BAC of .15% or higher or refuse to take a breathalyzer test.

If you are facing criminal charges for a DUI or physical control in Washington state, hiring a criminal defense attorney can help you work towards the best possible outcome. Your lawyer can guide you through the process, prepare you for court dates, and build a compelling defense in your favor. Before you speak to any police officers or investigations, contact an attorney to discuss your legal options.

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