When can a stop for an infraction move into an investigation for a DUI

Generally most people that get arrested for a DUI initially get pulled over for a minor traffic infraction.  In order for a police officer to have a sufficient basis to ask the driver to exit the vehicle and begin an investigation for DUI they have to have a reason for doing so.  And no, simply admitting to consuming alcohol, and having an odor is not enough.

A warrantless search of constitutionally protected areas is presumed unreasonable absent proof that one of the few well-established exceptions to the warrant requirement applies State v. Ladson, 138 Wash.2d at 349. These exceptions fall into several categories, including consent, exigent circumstances, and searches incident to valid arrest, inventory searches, plain view, and Terry investigative stops. Ladson, 138 Wn.2d at 349. The State bears the burden of proving a warrantless search falls within one of the exceptions when a traffic stop becomes a DUI investigation.

In the absence of probable cause to arrest, police may conduct a brief investigative stop known as a Terry stop. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). To satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment and article I, section 7 of the Washington constitution, a Terry stop must be based on “specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” Mendez, 137 Wn.2d at 223 (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 21). In evaluating investigative stops, the courts must determine: (1) was the initial interference with the suspect’s freedom of movement justified at its inception? (2) Was it reasonably related in scope to the circumstances, which justified the interference in the first place? Terry, at 392 U.S. at 19-20.Without sufficient justification, police officers may not use routine traffic stops as a basis for generalized, investigative detentions or searches. State v. Henry, 80 Wn. App. 544, 553, 910 P.2d 1290 (1995). The reasonableness of an investigative detention is judged by the purpose of the investigative detention, the amount of physical intrusion, and the length of the investigative detention. State v. Williams, 102 Wn.2d 733, 739-40, 689 P.2d 1065 (1984). If a seizure is unlawful, the result of a consequent search is inadmissible. State v. Kennedy, 107 Wn.2d 1, 4, 726 P.2d 445 (1986). When a police officer uses his/her patrol vehicle’s emergency lights to detain a motor vehicle, a seizure has occurred. State v. DeArman, 54 Wn. App. 621, 624, 774 P.2d 1247 (1989).

Investigatory stop must not exceed duration and intensity necessary to confirm or dispel officer’s suspicions; if the stop exceeds these limitations, it can be justified only by showing of probable cause. State v. Mitchell, 80 Wn. App. 143, 906 P.2d 1013 (1995). Whenever any person is stopped for a traffic infraction, the officer may detain that person for a reasonable period of time necessary to identify the person, check for outstanding warrants, check the status of the person’s license, insurance identification card, and the vehicle’s registration, and complete and issue a notice of traffic infraction. State v. Lemus, 103 Wn. App. 94 (2000).

A stop for a traffic infraction can be extended only when an officer has articulable facts from which the officer could reasonably suspect criminal activity and the continued detention must be limited to the length of time needed to investigate the increasingly suspicious circumstances. Wa. Const, art. 1, § 7.; State v. Lemus, 103 Wn. App. 94 (2000) (Emphasis added). And the continued detention must be limited to the length of time needed to investigate the increasingly suspicious circumstances. State v. Gonzales, 46 Wn. App. 388, 394, 731 P.2d 1101 (1986). Articulable suspicion is a substantial possibility that criminal conduct has occurred or is about to occur. State v. Kennedy, 107 Wn.2d 1 (1986).

For example, in State v. Tijerina, the Court of Appeals in Division 3 held that the officer did not have any “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity sufficient to support his continued detention of the motorist after he had decided not to issue a citation. 61 Wash.App. 626 (1991). In Tijerina, the defendant and passenger were pulled over after an officer observed their vehicle cross over the fog line. Id. When the defendant opened the glove box to obtain his registration, the officer noticed several small bars of soap of the kind commonly provided at motels. Id. After checking the defendant’s driver’s license and registration, the officer decided not to issue a citation. Id. The officer then asked the defendant if he had any drugs and asked to search the trunk of the car. Id. The officer opened the trunk and discovered cocaine wrapped in a newspaper next to a case of empty beer bottles. Id.

Generally when its comes to DUI arrests, Seattle police officers need to make several observations of the driver in order to begin a DUI investigation. In my opinion the officer needs to notice a slurred speech, an odor of alcohol, bloodshot watery eyes, difficulty answering or understanding questions, and finger dexterity issues or coordination problems. If any of those observations are absent then an officer shouldn’t be able to ask a driver to exit the vehicle to conduct an investigation for DUI.

If you have been contacted by a police officer and you don’t believe the officer had a sufficient basis to ask you to exit your vehicle and conduct a DUI investigation, contact my office immediately to set up a free 60 minute consultation.