Part of my job as a DUI defense attorney in Seattle is to stay up to date on any changes in the law. This can occur one of three ways. First I like to keep an eye on rulings from the district court trial level. What Judge granted what motion, what Judge denied what motion. How is a specific court handling other issues involving DUI's. This is fairly simply to do since I am in court almost every day all over the state. Im also a member of some email list serves that often update defense attorneys on the happening in court. The second way I stay up to date is follow the Washington State Legislation. Changes in legislation can have a big impact in my practice. Specifically this last legislation session there were some big changes made, that I have previously blogged about. The last way I keep up to date on issues is by following the Appellate level, and rulings from the Washington State Supreme Court. Recently a ruling that I don't agree with came down from the State Supreme Court. I feel it is worth blogging about so here is the gist of it.
State of Washington v. Gilberto Chacon Arreola. The facts of the DUI case are the following. Mr. Chacon was driving Mattawa, WA. Earlier a 911 caller called the Mattawa PD to report a possible DUI driver. Officer Validivia responded to the car and located Mr. Chacon. Officer Validivia followed Mr. Chacon for almost a mile and did not observe any signs of possible impairment. There was no weaving within the lane, no swerving or crossing into the other lanes of traffic, no other erratic driving to suggest the driver a DUI. However Officer Validivia continued to follow the vehicle and observed the muffler had been modified. Based on this he decided to stop the vehicle because in his words, he is a member of the community and does not appreciate the sound an altered muffler makes.
So long story short, he stops the vehicle. Observes signs of impairment and Mr. Chacon is arrested for DUI. The heart of the issue is whether this sounds like a pretextual stop. If you remember from a previous blog I wrote. A pretextual stop occurs when a police officer contacts an individual with the intention of investigating an unrelated crime, and justifies the stop by saying some minor infraction occurred. These issues are pretty difficult to prevail on just because deference is usually given to the Officer and if they are smart they can word their report in a way to make it sound like they are just conducing routine traffic patrol, and happen to stop a vehicle that turns into a criminal investigation.
So what did the Supreme Court say. They said this is fine. In fact the holding was, "a mixed-motive traffic stop is not pretextual so as long as the desire to address a suspected traffic infraction for which an officer has a reasonable articulable suspicion is an actual, conscious, and independent cause of the traffic stop." So in this case because Officer Validivia testified that he routinely stops vehicles for altered mufflers, and that is all he was doing in this case, the stop is justified.
I wish the defense would have looked into how many stops Officer Validivia has actually made for altered mufflers. Because I would venture to guess probably not many, if he has even made one before. So using the altered muffler as an excuse to stop someone is BS in my opinion. But I guess it worked, since it is now okay to do so.
Matthew Leyba is a Seattle DUI lawyer in Washington state. His practice focuses on representing those accused of DUI and other serious traffic offenses. He has a high success rate in defending DUI's that routinely result in reduced charges and/or dismissed offenses. If you have been arrested for a DUI in Seattle contact our office immediately for a free 60 minute consultation.