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Seattle Criminal Law Blog

Police respond to drunk driver covered in dog poop

At about 11 p.m. on April 7, police received calls about a car running red lights and coming close to hitting several vehicles in Washington state. Minutes later, another person called 911 to report that a vehicle had crashed through their gate. The driver of the vehicle had fled on foot, but police soon made contact with the man who was covered in feces.

Authorities later discovered that the property owners bred dogs on their farm and kept all the feces in a container. That is where the man had tried to hide after fleeing his vehicle. As the man was covered in fecal matter, police had firefighters check the man's condition instead of conducting a field sobriety test. However, he did acknowledge that he had been drinking tequila prior to driving. Therefore, the 25-year-old was taken to jail on a suspicion of drunken driving.

BAC devices must be calibrated

Most Washington drivers have heard about the legal limits for blood alcohol content, or BAC. States have enacted laws stating there is a presumption of guilt regarding driving under the influence if there is a BAC at a pre-determined level. BAC can be measured by a blood test from a lab technician, but it is generally measured by law enforcement personnel using a Breathalyzer machine. There are specific guidelines for maintenance and calibration of Breathalyzer machines, and if officials cannot produce documentation certifying a machine is in compliance, the results of any test may be disallowed in court.

Each jurisdiction has specific criteria regarding certification and calibration of Breathalyzer machines. Generally, the machines in use must be from a pre-determined list of devices deemed reliable and scientifically accurate. Each machine must be operated by an officer or technician with specified training and certification in the use of Breathalyzers and administration of BAC testing. Specific testing protocols must be followed. Among the criteria for reliable testing is a period observing the subject of the test to ascertain there is no burping, regurgitation or other activity that could adversely affect the accuracy of the test. There must be multiple tests administered with measurable readings within .02 of each other.

Husband of Mary Kay Letourneau faces DUI charges

Seattle residents might be familiar with Vili Faulaau, the husband of former teacher Mary Kay Letourneau. Letourneau was convicted of sexually assaulting Faulaau when he was her student, but the two married in 2005. On Feb. 2, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Burien and charged with driving under the influence. He was scheduled for a court appearance on March 30.

Police reports say that he was driving on 1st Avenue South in a Mercury Mountaineer SUV when he ran a red light shortly before midnight and hit two other vehicles. According to a police report, Faulaau smelled like alcohol and had glassy eyes and slurred speech. He said that he had been drinking and that he would do field sobriety tests.

How police officers determine that drivers are intoxicated

Motorists in Washington with blood alcohol levels of .08 percent or higher are considered too intoxicated to drive. Impaired motorists are generally taken into custody for processing and to protect other road users, and they may face serious penalties if records checks reveal that they have a history of drunk driving. Police often become suspicious that a driver is intoxicated after performing a routine traffic stop or responding to the scene of an accident.

Police officers are not permitted to pull vehicles over unless they have reason to suspect that a crime has been committed or evidence of a crime will be discovered. However, officers may pull over a driver who is having difficulty controlling their vehicle or has committed a traffic infraction like speeding or running a red light. When presented with evidence of intoxication such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes or the odor of alcohol, police have a number of ways to determine whether or not the driver concerned should be charged with drunk driving.

How marijuana can still lead to arrests in Washington

Marijuana has been decriminalized in Washington, but only in certain circumstances. Even though it's legal for adults to possess a small amount, there are times when possessing or selling marijuana could get you into deep trouble with the law. On top of that, federal charges could apply in addition to state charges.

What should you know about marijuana in Washington? Here are three ways you can end up facing charges despite the legalization of weed.

An overview of the RICO law

If a Washington business is actually a front to embezzle funds, it may be called a racket. Those who engage in rackets are said to be racketeering. For example, organized crime rings might try to traffic weapons or infiltrate a company in an effort to commit white-collar crime. Both state and federal laws are in place to deter such racketeering.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act makes it possible to convict someone for merely running an organization that engages in illegal activity. Prior to its passage in 1978, it was difficult to prosecute the leaders of organized crime rings because they weren't the ones committing the crimes. While it was designed to battle organized crime, RICO has been used to bring corrupt members of the clergy and domestic terrorists to justice. Its large reach has made the legislation controversial throughout the United States.

State lab faces backlog of DUI blood tests

Washington State is facing a backlog of laboratory testing for DUI cases, especially those related to alleged drug use before driving. Thousands of requests have been made for the blood testing of samples collected from accused drivers. This surge is reflected in the numbers. In 2017, the state toxicology lab handled 15,945 cases, which is a 9 percent increase over the previous year. However, this was not a one-year increase but part of an ongoing trend as the number of cases presented to the lab has increased 45 percent since 2012.

The laboratory, directed by the Washington State Patrol, provides blood testing on samples from DUI cases. While the number of cases handled by the lab has risen greatly, the number of scientists has remained static. There currently are 18 employees in the lab, which is the same number as it was in 2012. This has caused cases to be pushed back as the time needed for testing grows. While it took 20 days to receive lab results in 2016, it took approximately 46 days to receive the same results in 2017.

Bad decisions while driving can ruin the future

There are individuals in the Seattle area who might drive after having one too many drinks. They may not have realized that their legal blood alcohol limit was exceeded after their last drink. There are also people who may be under the legal limit, but due to police error, are wrongfully charged with driving under the influence. And then there are those who do nearly everything wrong.

Recently, a Pierce County man was pulled over after being spotted driving on the wrong side of the road. Upon the police approaching the car and questioning the man, he simply blurted, 'I'm drunk." After offering the police cash to let him go, the drive was given a breathalyzer test and arrested. A license check showed it to be under suspension.

Despite legalization, growing marijuana in Washington is a crime

Washington state joined a growing minority of states when voters approved I-502 in 2012. This initiative created a regulated recreational marijuana industry in the state to complement the existing medical marijuana industry. Overall, this move has been successful at decreasing non-violent, marijuana-related arrests and increasing tax revenue for the state.

However, there is still much confusion among the public about what is legal and what is not. Some people confuse the medical marijuana rules with the recreational marijuana laws. That mistake could lead someone to engage in behavior that is actually illegal without realizing it. People can still go to jail for marijuana in Washington, especially if they grow the plant.

Various kinds of drunk driving charges

Drunk driving laws vary from state to state, but there are some general principles that guide them. People in Seattle who are detained for drunk driving for the first time will probably be charged with a misdemeanor if there are no extenuating circumstances such as an accident that injures other people.

The types of penalties for the first, second or third offense may include a loss of license, a fine or even jail time. A person might be required to install an ignition interlock device on the vehicle. After multiple DUIs or in DUIs involving an accident that injures others, a person might be charged with a felony. Penalties could include a license suspension that lasts years, jail time or restitution. People may also be required to attend classes.

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