New 9th Circuit case applicable to Seattle DUI cases

As part of my DUI practice I have to stay on top of the ever changing landscape of DUI related case law. Whether its at the local DUI district court level, RALJ appeals, State Supreme Court, or even the National DUI news, the experienced DUI Lawyer must stay on top of it.

Recently I became aware of a case that came out of the Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals. It not from Washington and it doesn’t involve a DUI, but the reasoning can still be applied and argued here in Washington State when it comes to a DUI charge. Below is a background of the case.

The defendant was stopped at about 1:43 am for allegedly having tinted windows. The Officer who initiated the stop made contact and ran the drivers license. Another officer arrived and ordered the driver to exit the vehicle. As he exited the vehicle the primary officer pulled him aside and handcuffed him and told him to sit against the front bumper of the car. For the next 25-30 minutes the Officers yelled at the defendant, harassed them, and threatened them. All the while not conducting any sort of investigation.

The Ninth Circuit stated that a prolonged seizure without a valid investigatory purpose was unreasonable in violation of the fourth amendment. The critical inquiry is whether the officers diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions. In determining the reasonableness of the length of detention the Court looked at whether the Officers were acting swiftly to conduct an investigation or whether they used threats of force, or other unnecessary tactics.

Ultimately the Ninth Circuit held that an objectively reasonable officer responding to the scene of this detention would have known its duration of 45 minutes without probable cause, during which the Officers did nothing to diligently investigate was an unlawful detention and in violation of the 4th amendment.

So how does this related to Washington State DUI cases. Well often times in my practice I have cases that involved the Seattle Police departments DUI squad. This is a squad of officers that for the most part investigate Seattle DUI cases. Often times the initial contact is made by a non-DUI squad officer and they call for back up. The problem is when the non-DUI squad officer doesnt conduct any sort of investigation. They dont ask the driver of the vehicle any follow up questions regarding alcohol consumption, or their driving. They dont ask for the field sobriety tests, or the portable breath test. They basically just detain the driver until a DUI squad officer arrives.

I believe this detention is unlawful unless the non-DUI squad officer conducts some kind of investigation. I believe this is a violation of the 4th amendment based on the unreasonable length of detention and the lack of any sort of meaningful investigation into the DUI.

Remember if you have been contacted by a officer who suspects you of a DUI, its important to ask to speak with a DUI Attorney, not agree to any field sobriety tests or the portable breath test. Exercise your right to remain silent and most of all be polite.