Vigilantes and following suspected DUI drivers in Seattle

Interesting article in todays Seattle times about an ex-state patrol cadet (not an actual Washington State Patrol Trooper) mind you who followed a vehicle he suspected was a DUI while in 911. This type of is actually pretty common here in Seattle. I have had several cases over the course of my career where a vigilante citizen followed one of my clients suspecting they were a DUI driver, called 911, and actually made a Seattle DUI arrest.

Personally I think this behavior is a little questionable, but I realize there are people out there who have no problem calling 911 to report something they believe is illegal. Personally I wouldn’t do anything unless the suspected DUI driver was driving so recklessly or erratic it was a danger to myself, my family, and other innocent bystanders.

But often times these vigilantes go the extra step and actually try to make a citizens arrest. Im not sure what happened in the DUI case that was in the Seattle Times about the ex-cadet stopping a council member. But in every case that I have ever had this is what happened. The vigilante sees what they suspect is a DUI, follow the vehicle and either call 911 or just go ahead and actually stop and detain the vehicle. Going this extra step is what I have the problem with.

Obviously in this case that was an ex-cadet who probably didn’t make the State Patrol but still wants to do that work. Saw this as an opportunity and regardless of how unlawful it is decided to make a stop. Now I don’t know all the facts only what was in the article. But in this Seattle DUI lawyers opinion this is unlawful behavior.

The actual case law in Washington State is pretty murky when it comes to citizen arrests. In order for such a stop to be made the citizen needs to observe what is called a breach of the peace and it must be committed in their presence. While Washington State has no actual law regarding DUI cases and citizen arrests it can be very ambiguous what constitutes a breach of the peace. Is committing a traffic infraction enough of a breach of the peace for a citizen to call 911 on an individual? The difficult thing in these cases is unless you can prove the citizen was acting as a state agency or in some capacity the 4th amendment would not apply regarding an unlawful seizure.

In case you’re interested in the article here is the link.

Matthew Leyba is a Seattle DUI Lawyer focusing his practice in DUI defense, and other serious traffic offenses. If you have been arrested for a DUI feel free to call 206-429-8425 to set up a free consultation.