In an effort to expose and explain some DUI myths this will be a series of posts dedicated to explaining how a "typical" DUI begins and then the course it runs through DUI Prosecutions. Along the way, I hope to point out a citizens rights, obligations, and some systemic flaws. This will be a series of shorter posts in hopes of posting frequently (weekly) in small segments. All DUI prosecutions begin with law enforcement contact in some way shape or form. So, we start with the DUI Stop.
The DUI Stop
Washington citizens and motorist alike have the right to be left alone. To go about their business unencumbered by the government or its agents. That means law enforcement of all varieties. While a citizen has this right it does not mean they are “untouchable.” In fact, we are far from it. When you are in a vehicle there are rules to follow. You learn them when you take your driving test. You learn, you memorize them and then you slowly forget them. Your driving becomes a habit and bad habits creep in. You frequently speed. Don’t use a signal since no one is around. The stop sign is frequently just a suggestion and it becomes a Roll- Sign. We all have them, we all do them. It is these rules we bend and break that are the basis for law enforcement officers to seize us and over come our right to be let alone as it has a limit. The rules of the road are, for the most part, civil in nature. That means if violated, a person faces a fine imposed by a Judge if found to have been committed or admitted. These rules of the road violations are known as “infractions” and this designation is important because you do not face a jail term, but they can lead to a jail term.
Under our system of rule enforcement, the law is such that when a police officer sees a rule violation or sees behavior that he believes is a violation, he is entitled to seize that person with his lights and detain them to issue the ticket. Once contact is made, an officer should not ignore things that come to his attention during the contact of the driver.
As a result, a DUI stop is most often a stop for a road rule violation and then becomes an investigation for a crime that appears to be afoot, or in progress. This is why the rules of the road and lazy driving habits are so important in avoiding a DUI. A person may not even be DUI as evidenced by a breath test, but if there is poor driving exhibited a conviction is possible. As a result, a driver should employ good habits, not only because it avoids false “detection” but it makes you a better driver.
Here is a list of the most frequently seen violations that in my experience lead to a stop and then DUI investigation:
- Speeding – This includes going 10 mph UNDER the limit even if you do not hold up any traffic;
- Wide Turns;
- Failure To “Properly” Signal – A proper signal is given 100 feet prior to making a turn or lane change;
- Crossing A Lane Line – Fog line, Center-line, Or Line Marking Separate Lanes for Same Direction of travel;
- Swerving And Drifting Within The Designated Lane Of Travel;
- Almost Striking A Vehicle Or Other Object. With the existence of the new “move over” statute drivers are said to be not far enough over and therefore “almost” struck another vehicle;
- Failure To Completely Stop At Stop Signs, Crosswalks, Or Other Stop Lines;
- Going the Wrong Way On a 1-Way street – Bellingham WA is full of one-way streets that are sometimes improperly signed, and is generally a confusing matrix of streets for those not familiar;
- Stopping Problems – Too far, too short, or too jerky;
- Slow Response To Traffic Signals;
- Driving Without Headlights At Night;
- Following Too Closely; and
- Improper Or Unsafe Lane Change.
This list is not exhaustive, and there are many other non-driving-related reasons for seizing a driver such as expired tabs, broken taillight, or a local favorite “defective license plate light,” defective exhaust, and the list goes on and if you maintain your vehicle and have good driving habits your risk of being stopped is lowered if not eliminated and simultaneously causes driver’s around you to appreciate you. Regardless of how cautious and courteous you are, you still may find yourself stopped by an officer, but with the exception of speeding, the above infractions are most frequently enforced after 10pm and before 3am as time of driving is a major part of DUI enforcement and training.
Therefore, the best DUI defense is to not drink and drive, but until Washington becomes a “Zero Tolerance” State, it remains legal to consume alcohol drive as long as the driver is neither above a .08 or affected by the alcohol, and good driving habits will help you avoid a DUI.