Coming Soon: Harsher Penalties for Vehicular Homicide in Washington State

Thanks to the recently passed bill on vehicular homicide penalties, drivers throughout the State of Washington should be even more cautious before getting behind the wheel after a night on the town. Drunk driving is all too common in Washington State, as there are approximately 250 people killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents in the State of Washington each year. Proponents of heavier penalties for drunk driving and vehicular homicide are celebrating as 2SHB 2216 – a bill that significantly increases the sentencing for vehicular homicide and vehicular assault while under the influence – was passed by the Washington State legislature on March 1st.

Vehicular Homicide: Washington’s Lingering Problem

According to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s office, there are roughly 250 people killed each year by drunk drivers in Washington State. Although statistics show that the averages are in a trending decline – there were a reported 170 deaths in 2010 – drunk driving is still a major issue in Washington State.

One of the more recent of these tragedies involved the death of Steven Lacey, a Google engineer who was killed on his way home from the grocery store by Patrick Rexroat who posted a .29 BAC – over three times the legal limit – an hour after the crash took place.

A Long Time Coming

With so many drunk driving fatalities in Washington State each year, the call for harsher penalties has been in the works for quite some time. Satterberg, who has seen the toll these tragic incidents take on victims’ families first hand, has attempted to bring tougher sentences into discussion several times in the past.

“One of the hardest things any prosecutor has to do is sit down with a family like I did with Steve Lacey’s family last month…and say, ‘Oh by the way, the offender – he’ll be out in two years,” Satterberg said in a statement shortly after Lacey’s death.

Satterberg credits the work of House Representatives Chris Hurst and Roger Goodman, as well as Senate Representatives David Frockt, Adam Kline and Mike Padden for bringing a more suitable penalty to the heinous offense.

“We have given the families of loved ones lost to drunk drivers some sense of justice,” Satterberg said. “The increased sentences will not bring back their family members but will send a strong message to drunk drivers that their actions have consequences.”

2SHB 2216: What it Means

House Bill 2216, which will become law later this year, will inflict harsher penalties for drunks who kill someone while behind the wheel.

Currently, the penalty for drunk drivers convicted of vehicular homicide stands at two to three years for first time offenders. The new bill increases that range to six to eight years for first time offenders.

There is a great deal of trauma that comes from the loss of a loved one because of a drunk driver. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a drunk driver, tell us your thoughts on the new bill and what it means for Washington State in the comment box below. 

Chris Davis
Top-rated, award-winning, attorney practicing wrongful death & serious injury law in Seattle.
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