Washington Supreme Court Finds No Alternative Means to Commit DUI Under Prior Statute

The Supreme Court of Washington issued a recent opinion in the case of State v. Sandholm (Wash. Dec. 3, 2015), interpreting the former version of the driving under the influence (DUI) statute, RCW 46.61.502, in order to determine the number of alternative means of committing an offense under the statute. In addition, the court analyzed former RCW 9.94A.525 to decide how offender scores for prior convictions are calculated.

In Sandholm, the defendant was pulled over while driving and ultimately charged with felony DUI, as a result of his prior DUI offenses within 10 years. At trial, the jury instructions presented two alternative statutory means to commit DUI:  (1) that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or (2) that the defendant was under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs. The defendant appealed the verdict against him, arguing that the jury instruction was erroneous, since there was no evidence to support a conviction based on drug intoxication. The Court of Appeals agreed that the jury instruction was erroneous but affirmed the conviction, holding that the error was harmless. The defendant subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court of Washington.

Pursuant to the Washington Constitution, criminal defendants have the right to a unanimous jury verdict. Nevertheless, in alternative means cases, in which the criminal offense can be committed in more than one way, jury unanimity is not required if each alternative means presented to the jury is supported by sufficient evidence. However, a conviction will not be affirmed if the evidence is insufficient to support one or more of the alternative means presented to the jury. Under the former DUI statute, a person is guilty of driving while under the influence if he or she has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher, is under the influence of liquor or any drug, or is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor and any drug.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Washington determined whether the former DUI statute created alternative means to commit the offense. The court explained that the statutory analysis focuses on whether or not each alleged alternative describes distinct acts that amount to the same crime. The more varied the criminal conduct, the more likely it is that the statute describes alternative means. When the statute describes minor nuances, the more likely it is that they are merely facets of the same criminal conduct. Applying these principles to Sandholm, the court held that the statute contemplated only one type of conduct, i.e., driving a vehicle under the influence of substances that may impair the driver. Finding that the former DUI statute created no alternative means, the court ruled there was no error and affirmed the defendant’s conviction. The court further found that the defendant’s prior drug offenses were correctly included in the offender score under the former statute.

If you have been arrested or charged with a DUI, you have the right to seek representation and legal advice from a criminal defense attorney. The skilled Seattle DUI attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC are committed to defending clients who have been charged with criminal offenses in Washington. To consult with one of our experienced attorneys regarding your case, contact our office at (206) 622-6562 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Washington Court Holds That Defendant’s Previous Conviction Elevates DUI to Felony Charge, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published September 15, 2015

Washington Supreme Court Holding Limits Protection of Rule 3.1 in DUI Case, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published October 9, 2015

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