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Washington Court Reverses DUI Conviction Due to Lack of Reasonable Suspicion

On Behalf of | Jan 28, 2019 | DUI

Under Washington law, the police must have reasonable suspicion to justify a traffic stop. If you are stopped without a valid reason, and subsequently charged with a crime due to evidence produced during the stop, you have grounds to suppress the evidence at trial.

If the evidence is nonetheless admitted and you are subsequently convicted, you may be able to have the conviction overturned, as illustrated in State v. Brown, a case recently ruled on by the Court of Appeals of Washington. If you are charged with a DUI, it is in your best interest to consult an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to formulate a plan for your defense.

Facts Regarding the Traffic Stop

It is alleged that a police officer observed the defendant turning left, and saw the tires of his vehicle briefly crossing the divider line. He continued to follow the defendant and observed the defendant turning on his left-hand indicator as he entered the lane, then shut off his indicator before turning. No other traffic was present at the time of the turn. The officer then stopped the defendant for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. The defendant was subsequently charged with a DUI. During the trial the defendant filed a motion to suppress any evidence produced during the stop, arguing the stop was not justified. The court denied the motion and the defendant was convicted of DUI. He then appealed.

Reasonable Suspicion Under Washington Law

The Washington law requiring the use of turn signals, RCW 46.61.305, is titled “When signals required – Improper use prohibited.” The first provision of RCW 46.61.305 states that a person cannot turn on a roadway unless a turn can be made safely and the driver gives an appropriate signal in the manner provided in the second provision. The second provision states that a turn signal shall be given continuously for 100 feet before turning, when it was required. In interpreting the purpose of RCW 46.61.305, the court found that it was drafted to protect public safety. Consistent with that interpretation, the court held that the phrase “when required” meant that the use of a turn signal was only needed when it was necessary to protect public safety.

The court rejected the state’s argument that even if the defendant did not violate the law, the arresting officer reasonably believed he did, and therefore the stop was justified. The court noted that while other jurisdictions permitted a reasonable mistake of law to create reasonable suspicion, there was no case law or statute in Washington that permitted a stop based on a mistake of law. Based on the foregoing, the court reversed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Seasoned Washington DUI Defense Attorney to Discuss Your Case

If you live in Washington and are facing DUI charges, you should meet with a seasoned Washington DUI defense attorney to discuss your case and available defenses.  The experienced criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith and White will vigorously advocate on your behalf to help you preserve your rights. We can be reached at 253-363-8662 or through our online form to schedule a meeting.