Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in Washington State?

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All citizens in this country have the Constitutional right to travel in their vehicles free from unjustified police interference. So you may be wondering, “Are DUI checkpoints legal?” DUI traffic stops that are merely based upon a hunch — or are seemingly random — are illegal in Washington State. Although other jurisdictions allow the use of DUI checkpoints, they are deemed random stops under Washington law and are not permitted. Critically, in order for law enforcement to legally pull you over for driving under the influence, they must have a valid reason to conduct the DUI traffic stop.

Washington’s DUI Checkpoint Law

DUI checkpoints are roadblocks that are set up by law enforcement for the purpose of stopping drivers to determine whether they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In states where they are legal, they are frequently set up during the holidays or in locations where DUIs commonly occur. Notably, the Washington Supreme Court determined that DUI checkpoints are unconstitutional in the 1988 case, City of Seattle v. Mesiani. The court found the DUI checkpoints to be subjectively intrusive and in violation of the right to not be disturbed in one’s private affairs.

The court opined that Seattle’s DUI checkpoint program gave law enforcement “unbridled discretion to conduct intrusive searches.” In its decision, it noted that since DUI checkpoints involve seizures, they are only valid if there is “authority of law,” such as a warrant. The court also held that the state did not present an argument to the court that “would bring the checkpoint program within any possible interpretation of the constitutionally required ‘authority of law.’”

When are Police Permitted to Pull You Over on Suspicion of a DUI?

Law enforcement must have “articulable and reasonable suspicion” in order to lawfully pull you over for a DUI traffic stop. In other words, if an officer has the reasonable belief, based on their observations, that you are driving under the influence of alcohol, they are permitted to make the stop. However, probable cause is needed to make a DUI arrest.

Police officers are trained to look for certain driving mannerisms that might indicate a driver is drunk. Specifically, they may consider the following driving behaviors to determine whether a DUI traffic stop is warranted:

  • Turning with a wide radius
  • Straddling the center or a lane marker
  • Appearing to be intoxicated, i.e. slouching in the seat or drinking in the vehicle
  • Weaving in and out of lanes
  • Swerving
  • Driving at a slow speed
  • Stopping without cause in traffic lanes
  • Following too closely
  • Drifting in and out of lanes
  • Signaling inconsistent with driving actions
  • Slow responses to traffic signals
  • Stopping inappropriately
  • Accelerating or decelerating rapidly
  • Leaving headlights off when driving at night

Not all the above driving behaviors constitute violations of the law that justify the stop of a car. If your vehicle is illegally stopped, such as at an unlawful DUI checkpoint, any evidence discovered by a police officer after the stop is considered “tainted,” and it cannot be used against you in court. The legality of the initial detention in connection with a DUI is often a critical and hard-fought issue in a drunk driving case. If you were stopped unlawfully and charged with driving under the influence, it is essential to have a DUI attorney by your side who can develop a solid defense and fight the charges against you.

Pretextual DUI Traffic Stops

Challenging the legality of a DUI traffic stop can be a vital defense strategy in a DUI case. Significantly, it does not matter whether you committed a traffic violation — what is relevant is the officer’s reasonable suspicion that you committed one. Even if the officer found evidence that you were driving under the influence after they made the stop, this cannot validate an unlawful stop. Pretextual DUI traffic stops occur when an officer pulls someone over on the pretext of a traffic violation when they are really looking for evidence of a crime. These types of DUI traffic stops are strictly prohibited under Washington law.

However, the Washington Supreme Court has held that “mixed motive” traffic stops are permissible. These stops are motivated primarily by an investigation into a criminal matter, such as a DUI, but there is a valid reason to pull the vehicle over based on an actual traffic infraction. The court held in State of Washington v. Arreola, that if an officer “actually, consciously, and independently determines that a traffic stop is reasonably necessary” to address a suspected traffic violation, the stop is not pretextual, regardless of other motivations for the stop.

Contact an Experienced Washington DUI Attorney

If you are facing DUI charges, it is vital to have the representation of a knowledgeable DUI attorney who can protect your rights. Offering capable counsel and skillful advocacy, the Fox Law Firm PLLC has been helping clients throughout Washington obtain positive outcomes in their DUI cases since 1985. Contact Attorney Jon Fox for a free consultation by calling (425) 584-6679.

Categories: DUI Information