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DUI charges: You may have more legal options than you realize

We often discuss the nuances and many gray areas that can impact how drunk driving charges are filed and whether or not they can be successfully defended. In a DUI case, the details matter. Law enforcement officers are bound by strict protocols, including those designed to ensure that suspects are not subjected to unreasonable search and seizure.

That being said, there are some DUI cases of the "open-and-shut" variety, usually because the suspect made a foolish error or happened upon unfortunate circumstances. Although it didn't happen here in Washington state, a recent incident illustrates this point.

Marijuana blood tests and the use of electronic warrant systems

With recreational marijuana now legal in Washington state, it likely comes as no surprise that law enforcement agencies are reporting an increase in "drugged driving" cases. That is, incidents of driving under the influence allegedly involving marijuana.

It's unclear whether marijuana-impaired driving is actually on the rise or if it's just being more accurately tracked. One thing is clear, however: There is not yet a viable piece of technology to quickly and non-invasively measure the amount of THC in a driver's system. There is essentially no equivalent to the alcohol breathalyzer that law enforcement officers use "in the field."

A brief history of DUI checkpoints in Washington state: Part II

In our last post, we began a discussion about the history of DUI checkpoints in Washington state, as well as the legal controversies surrounding them, which continue to this day. To recap, DUI checkpoints were used in the early 1980s in Seattle, but citizens filed lawsuits against the city alleging that checkpoints were an unconstitutional infringement upon their privacy rights.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1990 upheld the legality of checkpoints as an "acceptable infringement on the Fourth Amendment," in reference to the U.S. Constitution. But Washington state has a history of privacy protections more vigorous than those afforded by the federal constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court.

A brief history of DUI checkpoints in Washington state: Part I

In January, we wrote about the controversial use of DUI checkpoints, sometimes referred to as sobriety checkpoints. These checkpoints are currently legal and utilized in 38 states. Washington is not among them.

Checkpoints are controversial for a number of reasons. But they are often challenged on constitutional grounds, including an argument that they violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. In states where checkpoints are illegal, they are usually banned by law (text or interpretation) or by state constitution (text or interpretation).

Another DUI bill introduced by Washington state lawmaker

After just a few months, 2015 is already proving to be a busy year for drunk-driving legislation in Washington. One of our posts last week focused on a proposed bill that would lower the threshold for felony DUI convictions. If passed, individuals could be charged with felony DUI after four previous convictions within 10 years (as opposed to five convictions which is typically the threshold today).

Late last month, another Washington legislator put forth his own DUI bill, which recently received a hearing in committee. Representative Brad Klippert proposed a piece of legislation that seeks to strengthen provisions on ignition interlock devices and would impose an open-container ban on marijuana in the cab of a vehicle.

Complete statistics on marijuana-related DUI hard to come by

We wrote last week about the practical challenges of enforcing Washington's DUI laws as they relate to marijuana impairment. Perhaps the most obvious challenge is that there are currently no approved breathalyzer devices that can test for THC. This makes testing difficult "in the field."

Another challenge facing Washington and Colorado (the only two recreational marijuana states through the end of 2014) is the fact that accurate statistical data on drugged driving are somewhat hard to come by. Because most states do not track marijuana-related DUI arrests and convictions in the same way that they track alcohol-related DUI, it is difficult to tell whether legalization has led to significant increases in drugged driving.

How close are we to having an accurate marijuana breathalyzer?

Ever since Washington residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana, there has been a lot of discussion and speculation about how legalization will impact rates of driving under the influence, as well as convictions for pot-related DUI. Unlike many other states, which have a zero-tolerance policy for THC in a driver's system, Washington has imposed a legal limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood.

Because THC (marijuana's active ingredient) can be detected in a person's body long after the high and impairment have worn off, the legal limit has largely been a positive change - it reduces the risk that an unimpaired driver will be charged with DUI due to lingering traces of THC. That being said, measuring THC levels is not yet at fast or easy as roadside breath testing for alcohol impairment.

Washington state legislators discuss increased DUI penalties

We often write about the significant consequences that can accompany a drunk-driving conviction. These include steep fines, loss of a driver's license, possible jail time, higher insurance rates and the mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle. Even being charged with DUI can have costly consequences, including the loss of your job and your reputation in the community.

In spite of these consequences, there are critics who argue that Washington state's DUI laws are too lenient, and that our penalties for drunk driving are among the weakest in the nation. As they have in previous years, certain lawmakers recently proposed increasing DUI penalties, including setting a lower threshold for felony DUI.

Understanding Washington's field sobriety tests: Part II

In our last post, we began a discussion about field sobriety tests.

Police in Washington state typically use the three tests recommended by the NHTSA, including the One-Leg Stand test we wrote about in our previous post. The other two tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test and the Walk-and-Turn test.

Understanding Washington's field sobriety tests: Part I

We have previously written that police officers need to go "by the book" when it comes to traffic stops and drunk-driving arrests. Every part of the encounter is important, from the initial stop to the field sobriety tests to the blood-alcohol-concentration tests to the arrest itself. If the officer makes a mistake or violates a suspect's rights during any of these, it could undermine the DUI case later on.

Assuming that the officer has lawfully made the traffic stop and suspects drunk driving, the next step is to ask the suspect to participate in field sobriety tests. We'll discuss three of the most common FSTs in this week's posts.

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