A recent article in the Seattle Times came out this weekend about King County DUI cases and how long they take to get filed. The article compared cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the King County Prosecutors Office and several other Prosecutor offices in and around Western Washington, specifically the Seattle City Attorneys office. In comparing the King County DUI cases and DUI cases from other jurisdictions, King County takes much much longer to file DUI charges. And the article asks why?
The article went on and on about the delay in King County DUI cases, and used an example of a gentlemen who was arrested for a DUI in King County but was not charged until 95 days after his DUI arrest. In between his arrest and arraignment in King County he got arrested for a DUI in the City of Seattle and was charged within a day or two of the arrest. The columnist then went on to blame the County for the delay and not locking this guy up sooner.
As a DUI Attorney in Seattle, I have to say I really don’t have an opinion on when a DUI case gets filed. Yes, I can see from the community safety point of view of charging someone as soon as they are arrested. But I also see the number of DUI cases that come through King County every year. There is absolutely no way the County can file cases like many small Prosecutor offices with much fewer cases. For example, the City of Seattle roughly handles a 1/4 of what King County handles and that is why there is such a quick turnaround.
Additionally, I tend to think that DUI cases in King County get handled and resolved much much quicker than say Seattle Municipal Court. The reason is that when the DUI charge is not filed for several months, it gives the defendant and the defense attorney a head start on the investigation.
For example, in Seattle Municipal Court if you are arrested for a DUI in the City of Seattle then you will have an arraignment within 2-3 business days. After your arraignment, the next court date is typically a month’s way. Most Judges will not allow a DUI case to be continued after 2 pretrial hearings. So basically a Defense Attorney has 60 days to interview all witnesses, find any legal issues, negotiate with the Prosecutor, and draft and file any motions. This time frame would be extremely fast for a theft of a candy bar case let along with a crime as complicated as a DUI. So most times in my experience DUI cases are needlessly set for trial in Seattle Municipal Court just to give the Defense more time to work on the case. This costs money to do from a taxpayer standpoint when you consider the added court time for the Judge, clerks, bailiffs, and Prosecutors, but the article didn’t seem to recognize this issue.
Now compare that to a King County DUI case. If it is filed 2 months after the date of the arrest. Then the Defense Attorney has probably already litigated the DOL hearing. Probably interviewed any witnesses including the arresting officer, and researched any legal issues. So by the time the DUI case is filed the Defense has thoroughly had enough time to investigate and prepare the case. So it is not uncommon for a DUI case to be resolved at that first pretrial, or at the latest the second pretrial. There is no needless trial date set, and the taxpayers save money.
Obviously this is just one man’s opinion. But it is a point of view that was not raised in the Seattle Times article. So before you go bashing Dan Satterberg and the King County Prosecutor’s office consider what I wrote above. Additionally from what I hear, nowadays the King County Prosecutors Office is filing cases much much quicker now. Not as fast as the Seattle City Attorneys, but usually within one month. Which I think is quite impressive, considering the number of cases that come through that office.
About the author: Matthew Leyba is a DUI lawyer in Seattle. He is currently rated a 10 out of 10 by Avvo and listed as a Superb DUI Attorney. Additionally, he was recently named a Rising Star in the field of DUI Defense by Super Lawyers Magazine and the Seattle Met Magazine. An honor less than 2.5% of all Attorneys receive.