Can the simple act of flicking a cigarette butt out of a car window lead to a DUI arrest? According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, it can. News outlet Penn Live reports a story in which a Pennsylvania man named James Amatucci was arrested for DUI after an officer stopped him for throwing a cigarette out of his window. In July 2011 Amatucci was driving his vehicle when an officer witnessed him toss the butt out the driver's side window. He was then stopped on the basis that he had violated a state law against scattering rubbish.
When Amatucci was stopped, it was found that he was in possession of a small amount of cocaine and driving on a license that had been suspended due to a prior DUI conviction. Though there was a lot of evidence to suggest that he was, in fact, DUI, the question as to whether he was stopped legally was challenged by his attorneys.
In the US, law-enforcement agents need a reason to stop a driver. This is called reasonable suspicion and implies that the officer needs a reason to be suspicious that a crime is being committed. Often this is given when the officer witnesses the driver breaking the law or demonstrating signs that the driver may be intoxicated such as driving at slow speeds or failing to maintain their lane. Police officers cannot simply stop vehicles on a whim or because they witnessed the driver leaving a bar late at night. If the court finds that an arrest occurred due to a police stop that had no legal basis, the charges will be dropped regardless of their severity.
Amatucci's attorneys argued that throwing one cigarette butt out of a car window is not significant enough to be considered a violation of an anti-littering law and therefore the officer had no legal grounds to stop him. The case was taken all the way to Pennsylvania's Supreme Court where judges ruled in favor of the officer.
The problem that this case demonstrates is that law-enforcement agents need less and less reason to stop drivers. Even one of Supreme Court judge Christine L. Donohue, states that she does not believe the ruling was correct and states:
The majority's ruling "provides law enforcement with (grounds for) pretextual motor vehicle stops" if police officers can say a driver tossed something, be it a cigarette or a gum wrapper, out the window, Donohue argued.
Still, anyone who is arrested for DUI in Seattle must have been stopped by an officer with probable cause. If you have been arrested in Washington and would like to know more about probable cause and your defense options, contact a DUI defense lawyer right away.