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Holiday Emphasis Arrests Require Special Scrutiny

Special emphasis patrols over the 2011-12 holiday season resulted in over 414 impaired driving arrests by the Washington State Patrol alone. Emphasis patrols often carry the spectre of "pretext" -- a legal doctrine which holds that law enforcement officers may not conduct a traffic stop for one thing (e.g., a minor traffic infraction) when they are actually interested in investigating another thing (e.g., impaired driving).

Washington is among a minority of states that uphold this special protection from governmental intrusion. The seminal Washington case -- State v. Ladson, 138 Wn.2d 353, 979 P.2d 833 (1999) --- has been subject to much jurisprudential push and pull over the years, but the principle still stands in Washington.

Most recently, Division III of the Washington Court of Appeals upheld this doctrine in State v. Chacon, 163 Wn. App. 787, 260 P.3d 985 (2011). In that case, a police officer followed the defendant's vehicle for over a half mile because it fit the description of a car reportedly driven by a suspected drunk driver. The officer noticed that the vehicle was equipped with an illegal muffler while watching for signs of impaired driving and he eventually stopped the vehicle for the muffler violation without observing any evidence of impaired driving. Even though the muffler violation would normally be a sufficient justification to stop a vehicle, the officer in this case stopped the vehicle with the primary motivation of investigating DUI . The officer testified that he would have stopped the defendant for the muffler violation even if he had not suspected DUI. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals overturned the defendant's conviction and directed the trial court to dismiss the case because, by conducting a pretextual traffic stop (i.e., a stop to investigate DUI justified only by a minor traffic infraction), the officer violated Article 1 Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution and State v. Ladson.

Arrests during emphasis patrols should always be carefully scrutinized for the type of pretextual motivation evidenced in State v. Ladson , State v. Chacon and their progeny.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Whitman County, call Baumgarten Law Office at (509) 593-4370 or (888) 445-2878 for a free consultation.