WSP Sued- Everybody Goes to Jail?
May 4th, 2009
Once a DUI arrest has been made and the processing has been completed (breath testing, fingerprinting, etc.) the arresting officer has the authority to decide whether the suspect will be booked into jail or released. Some jurisdictions routinely release people who have been arrested for DUI if they have no prior offenses, and if they have otherwise been cooperative. In some cases, the police officer will drive the individual home and leave them there with an admonishment not to drive any vehicle for 12 hours. Under these circumstances, the officer usually will have had the vehicle impounded. Other jurisdictions routinely book individuals into jail if there has been a DUI arrest, no matter whether it is a first arrest or a fourth DUI arrest, and no matter whether the individual cooperated or was deemed uncooperative by the officer.
The Washington State Patrol was on the losing end of a lawsuit in Whatcom County recently where the trooper arrested an individual who had a prior DUI arrest and who was already on a court program to treat alcoholism as a result of the prior DUI arrest. Instead of booking this individual into jail, the trooper drove her home. Later, this individual took a cab back to her car, drove, and collided head-on with another vehicle, seriously injuring the occupant. A jury found the State Patrol negligent and awarded damages in the sum of $5,500,000. Because of this award, we can expect to see a policy change that will result in the booking into jail of every driver arrested for DUI, no matter whether the breath test was under the legal limit and there are no prior offenses, or if there is a very high breath test reading and numerous prior offenses.
When an individual is booked into jail subsequent to a DUI arrest, there are several ways out. The first is to post bail, the second is to be released on personal recognizance if the jail has personnel on duty to process a release for personal recognizance, and the third way is to remain in jail until the driver can be taken before a judge who will set conditions of release.
Policies regarding booking a DUI suspect vary throughout the state. In Chelan County, for instance, it was already standard operating procedure to book into jail every driver who is arrested for DUI. However, a driver arrested for DUI in King or Snohomish counties may or may not be booked into jail depending upon the officer's discretion. Finally, for a DUI arrest in the City of Seattle, it has commonly been the practice of the Seattle Police Department to release a suspect who has been arrested for DUI to a friend or family member, and in some cases, to release the individual to a cab. These procedures may change due the Whatcom County verdict against the Washington State Patrol - time will tell.