DUI Conviction Mandatory Breath Test Fee Increased To 200.00. Ever Wonder Where The Money Goes?

DUI Conviction Mandatory Breath Test Fee Increased To 200.00.  Ever Wonder Where The Money Goes?

Until recently, the fine for a person who is convicted of a DUI, or crime reduced from DUI were all required to pay 125.00; traditionally this is called the “Breath Test” Fee.  This fee is assessed regardless of whether a person actually provided a sample, or refused the test as they are statutorily permitted to do.  Upon conviction, when fees and fines for the crime, regardless of whether it was reduced, were all totaled it came to $866.00 for a...


Until recently, the fine for a person who is convicted of a DUI, or crime reduced from DUI were all required to pay 125.00; traditionally this is called the “Breath Test” Fee.  This fee is assessed regardless of whether a person actually provided a sample, or refused the test as they are statutorily permitted to do.  Upon conviction, when fees and fines for the crime, regardless of whether it was reduced, were all totaled it came to $866.00 for a first offense under .15 breath sample, and $1121.00 for a first offense over .15 breath sample or a test refusal.  Probation fees are not set by statute and are charged monthly depending on the level of supervision and agency policy.

As of July 22, 2011, the fines and fee for the conviction have increased as a result of the breath test fee increasing.  The 125.00 breath test fee has been increased by $75.00 per test.  As a result of this increase the former totals of $866.00 and $1121.00 are now $941.00  and $1196.00. Traditionally, this fee is not able to be waived, but as an added change, under special circumstances and upon a verified petition by the person assessed the fee, the court may suspend payment of all or part of the fee if it finds that the person does not have the ability to pay.

So the fee is increased, but have you ever wondered what happens to these DUI fines and fees?  According to the statute, this breath test fee is for the purpose of funding the Washington State Toxicology Laboratory and the Washington State Patrol grants and activities to increase the conviction rate and decrease the incidence of persons driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The logic of this will be discussed shortly, but here is the breakdown of this fee use.

According to the statute, the fee assessed shall be collected by the clerk of the court and, subject to another statute (RCW 46. 61. 5054 [4]), $175.00 of the breath test fee MUST be distributed as follows:

Forty percent ($70.00) shall be subject to distribution under the authority of following statutes: RCW 3.46.120 (Repealed), RCW 3.50.100 (where to deposit and interest earned), RCW 35.20.220 (Powers and Duties of Chief Court Clerk), RCW 3.62.020 (Forfeiture Money From District Courts), RCW 3.62.040 (Forfeiture Money From City Cases), or RCW 10.82.070 (Superior Court Collections).

The remainder of the fee ($105.00) shall be forwarded to the state treasurer who shall, deposit: Fifteen percent ($15.75) in the death investigations’ account to be used solely for funding the state toxicology laboratory blood or breath testing programs; and eighty-five percent ($89.25) in the state patrol highway account to be used solely for funding activities to increase the conviction rate and decrease the incidence of persons driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The remaining 25.00 from the original 200.00 ($175.00 MUST be used as described above), or the extra 25.00 that takes the prior 175.00 fee to 200.00 must be distributed to the highway safety account to be used solely for funding Washington traffic safety commission grants to reduce statewide collisions caused by persons driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Grants awarded under this subsection may be for projects that encourage collaboration with other community, governmental, and private organizations, and that utilize innovative approaches based on best practices or proven strategies supported by research or rigorous evaluation.

After reading the statue closely, it now begs the question of: what are these innovative approaches to reduce “crashes?”  Keep in mind the statute by their very plain language do not seek to reduce the incidences of drunk driving, rather they seek to reduce crashes “caused” by drunk driving.  The problem as I see it, however, is that the vast majority of car crashes ARE NOT CAUSED by drunk driving.  While many believe that the majority of crashes are caused by alcohol or drug impaired driving this is not the case.  Like everything else, “sensationalizing” or constant headlines reporting leads many to the conclusion that all crashes are alcohol related.  Consider the 2008 statistics compiled by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

In 2008, the NHTSA discovered that 60 percent of fatal crashes were single-vehicle crashes, and from that statistic, 71 percent of those crashes were run-off-road crashes. A run-off-road crash is where the vehicle runs off the road and crashes into an object. What I found that was interesting was that 95 percent of these accidents were due to driver errors. Overcompensating the steering wheel when turning, poor directional control, and driving too fast for the conditions; these are the factors that make up that 95 percent. What this means in simple terms is Americans are horrible drivers. The main reason why people get into car accidents is because they can’t drive.

From this information, reading statutes carefully and with a critical and thoughtful analyses of the language of a statute is important to separate the reality from the rhetoric.  This is not intended to mean that drunk driving should be supported, rather it is intended to cause the reader, the citizen, the legislator to read statutes and proposed statues critically, and to think critically.

Why should time and energy be invested into reducing the cause of crashes that is way down the list of reasons for the crashes?  The answer is likely because it is easy increase fines and fees for issues associated with DUI than it is to say what the change is really about. It is easy to raise fees and fines for a crime such as DUI because it is popular to hate it.  In the words of a good friend of mine, Ted Vosk:

Defending an individual charged with driving under the influence of alcohol can be a challenging affair. Only those accused of sex offenses seem to be viewed with more disgust. The hysteria created by special interest groups has led to the adoption of ill conceived and unfair laws. Moreover, the spasmodic response to the proclaimed “carnage on the highways” has created a DUI exception to the Constitution so that citizen’s are now expected to check their rights at the ignition.

This does not mean we as Defense attorneys are “pro” DUI, rather we are “pro” common sense, fairness, and well thought out and well drafted laws. When we return for a look at the language of this new statute: “utilize innovative approaches based on best practices or proven strategies supported by research or rigorous evaluation”  it makes no sense.  How do we utilize innovative, meaning new, approaches that are proven?  By definition, if they are new they are in fact, unproven. If they are new, how can they be considered a proven strategy?  What the statute seeks to implement is methods that are proven to reduce DUI.  Really, the only way to reduce it is zero tolerance.  The current state of the law is this: it is not illegal to drink and then drive; so people do it.

The problem with permitting a judgment impairing activity is the line between impaired and not impaired is easily crossed.  If the legislature wants a new yet proven method of reducing DUI crashes then stop the rhetoric and simply make laws that prohibit any alcohol mixed with driving a crime. Interestingly enough this is one way an innovative yet proven method work.  Until such a time that the nation goes to zero tolerance the rhetoric of these statutes and agencies like MADD that seek to reduce DUI, simply seek to increase fundraising for their own causes.