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Washington Court Finds Law Requiring Impoundment of a DUI Suspect’s Car Unjust

On Behalf of | Nov 18, 2019 | DUI

When a person is arrested and charged with a DUI, it goes without saying that the person will not be able to drive his or her vehicle home. The issue of what the police are permitted to do with the vehicle following a defendant’s arrest, however, was recently presented to the Supreme Court of Washington. Specifically, the court addressed whether it was unconstitutional to impound a DUI suspect’s vehicle, in a case in which impoundment resulted in the discovery of evidence that led to additional charges for a DUI defendant. If you live in Washington and are faced with DUI charges, it is in your best interest to consult a capable Washington DUI defense attorney to discuss what you can do to protect your rights.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest

It is reported that the defendant was stopped by a police officer for exceeding the speed limit. When the officer spoke with the defendant, he smelled alcohol on the defendant’s breath. The officer requested that the defendant submit to a field sobriety test, but the defendant declined. As such, the officer arrested the defendant on suspicion of DUI and impounded the defendant’s vehicle pursuant to RCW 46.55.360.

Allegedly, the officer searched the vehicle after it was impounded, during which he found drug paraphernalia. The defendant was subsequently charged with DUI and possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute. The defendant then moved to suppress the evidence found during the search of his vehicle, arguing that the search was unlawful. The trial court granted the motion concluding that RCW 46.55.360 was unconstitutional. The State then submitted a motion for direct review by the Supreme Court of Washington.

Searches and Seizures Permitted Under Washington Law

Under RCW 46.55.360, when a driver is arrested for DUI, the driver’s vehicle must be impounded in most cases. If the driver is the sole owner of the vehicle, he or she must wait twelve hours before retrieving the vehicle. The primary purpose of the law was to protect the public and to remove any discretion from arresting officers with regards to whether a vehicle should be impounded.

In analyzing whether a statute is unconstitutional, the courts assess whether the acts mandated by the law disturb a person’s private affairs, and if so, whether the authority provided by law justifies the disruption. In the subject case, the court stated that impounding a car is a seizure under state law. The court stated, however, that to justify an impoundment, the police must show that there is reasonable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime or that there is a reasonable justification for the impoundment.

An impoundment will be considered lawful, therefore, only if it is reasonable under the facts of the case, which requires the officer to consider other alternatives. As RCW 46.55.360 mandated that a DUI suspect’s vehicle must be impounded without considering alternatives, the court found it to be unconstitutional. Thus, the court affirmed the suppression of the evidence.

Meet with a Trusted DUI Defense Attorney

DUI defendants have rights under the state and federal constitutions, and if their rights are violated during the investigation of a crime, it may be grounds for the dismissal of charges. If you are a Washington resident faced with DUI charges, it is wise to meet with a trusted Washington DUI defense attorney regarding your options.  The diligent attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White have the skills and experience needed to help you seek a favorable outcome. You can contact us through our form online or at 253-363-8662 to set up a consultation.