Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Suspected DUI driver on I-5 attracts 15 separate DUI calls

On New Years Day a driver who was weaving on I-5 in Pierce County caused 14 separate 911 calls from other drivers.  It appears the driver was driving pretty erratically on the freeway including traveling on the shoulder, crossing lanes without signaling, and traveling at inconsistent speeds.  Now even though Im a DUI lawyer in Seattle, I'm all for making the streets safer in our State.  And despite what I do Im not in favor of drinking and driving.  However lately I have been seeing an increase in these types of phone calls from citizens and it has me concerned.  

In fact I recently blogged about this on my website and how a 911 caller reported a suspected drunk driver in Seattle that turned out to be a Seahawk football player.  The football player was followed all the way into downtown by the 911 caller and was eventually stopped and arrested for DUI by the Washington State Patrol.  

As stated above lately I have been seeing this more and more.  I think it is in large part due to the negative publicity that DUIs have been getting in King County since the beginning of last year.  Remember we had two separate vehicular homicide cases in a matter of weeks.  Both of these drivers have prior DUIs and were in violation of court ordered ignition interlock devices.  In response to those incidents as well as some others the media, the general public, and the State Legislature demanded change in the DUI laws.  It seemed like every time I turned on the news or read the paper there was something DUI related and how we needed to toughen our laws to prevent these types of incidents from occuring.

The laws were changed, so Im not going to rehash that.  But what has also been a direct correlation to the media frenzy is the rise in 911 callers.  These "vigilantes" are in some cases following suspected drunk drivers, and conducting citizen arrests.  Most of the time however they are reporting the driver to the police based on nothing more than some weaving within the lane.  

In fact in the past year I have had several former clients involved in these kind of fact patterns.  And the concern I have when these "vigilantes" decide to report a drunk driver in the hopes of getting them arrested is the fact they have no idea what they are talking about.  For ever 911 call that was like the one I described in my first paragraph there are probably 50 more where the alleged drunk driver is not actually drunk.  In fact every case I have ever represented where there was a 911 caller the breath test ended up showing the driver was not over the legal limit.  And in most cases the driving was due to something else like playing with the radio, making a phone call, or fiddling with GPS.  

Did those people that called the police on the driver prevent a DUI in Pierce County.  Perhaps.  But think of all the other times people get stopped, detained, and in some cases arrested when they have done nothing illegal by having a drink and then deciding to drive home.  As I stated in my blog on my website.  Nowadays you not only need to worry about law enforcement, but also the "vigilante" 911 caller.  Remember if you had a glass of wine at dinner or a single beer while watching a football game, you decide to drive home and on the way there you get a text message look down at your phone a cross the lane divider.  If one of these vigilantes is behind you, they will call 911.  You will eventually get stopped by the police and arrested for a King County DUI.  Regardless of what your alcohol level is.  

About the author: Matthew Leyba is a DUI lawyer in the Bellevue Seattle area of Western WA.  He has been named a Rising Star in the field of DUI defense by the Seattle Met Magazine, an honor less than 2.5% of all Attorneys receive.  He also is rated a 10/10 by Avvo.com among Seattle DUI lawyers.   

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