Can you really get convicted of a DUI when the BAC is below the legal limit?
Often times I meet with people for a free DUI case consultation and they have a blood alcohol level below the legal limit. Most times they are shocked they are even being charged with a DUI. About half of the people honestly believe the DUI charge will eventually get dismissed by the Prosecution because they just cannot fathom being charged when you’re below the legal limit. And to be honest with you I have always felt it would be extremely unlikely to get convicted of a DUI with a BAC level below the legal limit.
But my opinion changed this past week. A defendant (not my client btw) was convicted of DUI with a blood alcohol level of 0.04 in the Redmond District Court. That is right. 0.04. That is half of the legal limit. Admittedly I did not watch the jury trial so I cannot comment on the performance of the Attorneys, rulings made by the Judge, the type of jurors that were picked, or the facts of the case. But I can tell you when I heard that verdict I was completely shocked.
In my career as a Seattle DUI lawyer I have taken 5 cases to trial that have been below the legal limit. I have never lost one of those cases and they were always quick not guilty verdicts. Often times the jurors wondered why the Prosecution took the case to trial. So whenever I meet with people charged with a DUI below the legal limit, I always tell them you never know what will happen. Most likely you will get offered a plea deal that is substantially better than a DUI. In some cases the charge will get dismissed or even lowered to a traffic ticket. But not in a million years did I think someone would actually get convicted of a DUI with a blood alcohol level of 0.04. I mean that is just plain crazy. That must have been some good lawyering by the Prosecutor, and some bad by the Defense Attorney.
So I guess in answer to my question. Yes I guess that case in Redmond is proof you can get convicted of a DUI with a blood alcohol level lower than the legal limit. When you combine the negative public perception that has recently exploded with DUI cases in King County, the risk of trial, the performance of the Attorneys, and the rulings by the Judge anything is possible. But in my opinion it is going to be extremely unlikely a jury will convict someone if they have a 0.04, despite what a jury recently found in a King County DUI case.
_ About the author: Matthew Leyba is a DUI lawyer in Seattle. He is currently named a Rising Star in Seattle DUI Defense by the Seattle Met Magazine, and rated a 10 out of 10 among Seattle DUI Attorneys by Avvo.