Washington D.U.I Arrest Now Gets Mandatory Vehicle “Lock-Up!”

Washington D.U.I Arrest Now Gets Mandatory Vehicle “Lock-Up!”

Unlike your driver’s license, which may not be suspended, revoked, or otherwise “lost” when you are arrested for a DUI, your car is not so lucky as of July 22, 2011.An Arrest for DUI (RCW 46.61.506)

Unlike your driver’s license, which may not be suspended, revoked, or otherwise “lost” when you are arrested for a DUI, your car is not so lucky as of July 22, 2011.

An Arrest for DUI (RCW 46.61.506) or Physical Control (RCW 46.61.504) now require a mandatory 12 hour impound at the owner’s expense.  The discretion formerly held by the arresting officer has been removed with only 2 exceptions: the vehicle is a commercial vehicle or is a farm transport vehicle and the registered owner was not a occupant of the vehicle when the stop occurred.

Many commercial vehicles are not owned by the driver’s who are hired to drive them so the law seems to respect their ownership interest in the vehicle as well as the trailer or load it may be carrying. The statute commands the officer that he or she SHALL provide and invest a reasonable amount of time and energy to arrange for the owner of the vehicle to take possession of the vehicle.  The problem, however, is that the statute uses the specific language of owner and there is no authority to permit the owner to send or arrange a suitable driver.  Consider the owner who cannot get from his residence in New Jersey to retrieve a fleet vehicle of his.  He is not permitted to have anyone else take possession of the vehicle.  The same may be said for farm equipment, except they are also in addition likely hard to find proper transport for so an exception can be made.

The mandatory impound is for 12 hours from the time the vehicle arrives at the tow storage yard, unless there are 2 or more registered owners of the vehicle OR there is a legal owner of the vehicle that was not the arrested driver.  Under these circumstances, one of these persons may retrieve the vehicle after it arrives at the impound yard.  This means a tow operator must take possession of the vehicle.  As a result, contacting the registered owner prior to vehicle being seized by the arresting officer and transported by a tow company while the vehicle is still on the roadside, is no longer possible.  As a result, charges for the hook-up, tow, and time in the tow yard in the form of storage will be accrued.

Given this financial gain by every tow company state-wide, it is no surprise that they were a very vocal special interest group and fought hard for this law.  While many supporters of the law cite to the case of “Hailey” and the community safety concern, it is important to remember and highlight the fact that the arresting officer previously ALWAYS had the ability to impound the vehicle previously driven by a DUI arrestee.  The officer in “Hailey’s” case choose not to.  He choose not to even though that arrestee (who later returned to her car after her DUI processing) had a pending DUI,had a suspended license, and did not have the ignition interlock that was required due to her restricted driver’s license.  This now mandatory law was always a possibility but it was the negligence of one arresting officer (as determined by a jury) and the multimillion dollar verdict that was the spark of this legislation.

While the community safety justification is one that cannot be disagreed with, there is no such practical problem in Whatcom County for DUI arrests.  This is because the Whatcom county jail has a policy of mandatory booking of DUI arrestees.  The arrested driver will not be released until a sober driver can be arranged to pick them up who must meet face to face with that driver and the arrested person proves a breath sample on a portable device that is .04 or lower.  As a result of this, justification of this new impound law is less persuasive and the apparent influence of the tow truck lobby is in fact a reality.

While many other jails have a similar policy, many do not.  In a Mount Vernon DUI, or Anacortes DUI, or any Skagit County DUI arrest, the jail will accept a DUI arrested driver, but only when space allows as the dangers of overcrowding have to be considered.  In those counties, the officer can call the jail and see if the person will be accepted.  If not, then the impound can move forward.  Nevertheless, while the spirit of the law is a good intention, the practical effect of the law can be unforeseen and undesired such that the law requires an amendment.

It should be kept in mind that vehicle impound is not a seizure and forfeiture of the vehicle forever, unless the vehicle becomes abandoned, but rather, the law only permits a hold for a 12 hour period unless one of the previously described circumstances exists.

The law also removes liability for any damage or loss the vehicle sustains post-arrest of the driver, even if the officer departs the scene before a tow truck driver arrives to take possession of the vehicle.  The statute permits the officer to simply lock the vehicle with the notice of tow and impound form inside the vehicle and leave the scene if, or when:  the officer has waited 30 minutes since requesting the tow truck/impound; the officer is presented with “exigent” circumstances that are defined in the statute as “being called to another incident or due to limited available resources being required to return to patrol.”

To the average citizen who is unfamiliar with the nightly occupation of a officer conducting “emphasis” patrols the statute is essentially the officers to not remain with the vehicle because they are always short handed such that they are operating under “limited resources.”  Sure it is just a car, but we tend to keep many valuable and important items in our vehicles and this opens them up to loss or destruction and the driver has no recourse.  In a county where the driver will not be returning to the vehicle anyways due to mandatory booking, the complete waiver of liability may serve as a extra punishment for the DUI arrestee who happens to use their vehicle as a mobile office.

Finally, this statute may also punish an owner, who never really uses the vehicle as it is typically in possession of an employee for work.  However, only a registered owner(s)s or legal owner(s)s may retrieve the vehicle from the impound lot, either early or post-12 hour hold.  As a result, the only person who can practically get the vehicle, after the 12 hour hold or longer, is the former driver/arrestee, but has no ability to do so.  This could be another extra expense in the form of longer storage time, therefore longer fees and travel expenses for an absentee properly owner.

This is not intended to suggest that this law should not have been passed, but rather, it is an example of good intentions affecting various unintended citizens and is the result of rushing legislation to appease the lobbying party at the expense of logical and measured thoughtfulness before stamping an effective date on a bill.