Last week the Washington Supreme court issued their ruling in State v. Eriksen, what appears to many to be a a simple case of DUI. However, given the location of the stop and arrest, the case contained an important issue and created a question as to whether a Tribal Officer had the authority to go beyond the tribal lands in making the stop and arrest? This precise issue has not yet been determined until now.
Previously, a similar issue that has been resolved was presented in State v. Schmuck, a 1993 case. In that case it was determined by the Supreme Court that a tribal officer has the authority to stop and detain non-Native American offenders on-reservation land until state authorities could arrive and assume custody. That Court case however, failed to address the current issue of Tribal Officers traveling “off-reservation” in continued pursuit. Instead, that Court only alluded to the issues of a prolonged detention while “on-reservation” and also refused to embrace the more implicit question of pursuit “off-reservation.”
In the Whatcom County DUI case of Eriksen, the Washington Supreme Court finally answered the issue and extended the prior rule. In doing this, the Court ruled that “tribal officers have authority to continue fresh pursuit of motorists who break traffic laws on the reservation and then drive beyond the reservation boundaries.” There is abundant Federal case law, however, that may serve to prove them wrong if this ruling is appealed. This is due to the historical separation between the US government and the Native American Nations.
In rendering the decision the Court appears mindful of the practicality of rules, regulations, and treaties, as well as the intent of the Lummi tribe as evidenced by the following language:
“The Lummi Nation does not assert authority to arrest and prosecute Eriksen for DUI but merely claims the power to stop and detain her until she could be turned over to Whatcom County officials.”
However, the Courts ruling also serves as an example of an end-result opinion and the continued maintenance of what we called the DUI exception to the constitution when the Courts closing comments are evaluated:
“Our decision today harmonizes with common sense and sound policy. To allow drunk drivers to escape the law by crossing a reservation boundary would unnecessarily endanger lives by incentivizing high-speed dashes for the border. We decline to embrace such a ludicrous result.”
The Courts agenda is obvious when you look to the same Courts decisions one year earlier in the matter of State v. King. King’s case of reckless driving was dismissed when seized by a city officer acting outside of his jurisdiction. In King, the Court held that
“the defendant’s actions while driving a motorcycle did not reach the level of erratic driving that constituted an emergency involving an immediate threat to human life or property, and thus, police officer, who was outside of his territorial jurisdiction, was not authorized to arrest defendant.”
The only difference between King’s and Eriksen’s cases, was the fact that the crime of reckless driving was at issue, rather than the crime of DUI. In fact, Eriksen’s driving was far less dangerous than those said to have been committed by King. In the King case, this very same court concluded that a peace officer who had gone through Washington State Law Enforcement Academy but outside of his jurisdiction lacked the authority to make a stop for the crime of Reckless Driving. However, in Eriksen’s case the Court justified the stop despite Tribal Officer’s lack of graduation from the State’s “official” law enforcement program and justified the stop also absent compliance with a valid agreement between the State and the Lummi Nation. As evidenced by the Court’s closing comments, the driving force of the ruling appears to me the fact that the crime is DUI.
While no one is in favor of DUI, the crime is one that deserves equal treatment in our justice system, rather than finding ways to achieve a particular result, and make excuses for intellectual dishonesty. This “ends justifies the meas approach” may be tolerated simply because DUI is a misdemeanor, but the practice is a slippery slope and should not be engaged in by any tribunal, but especially our State’s high Court.