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WA Supreme Court Strikes Down Impounding Cars After DUI

Posted by Steve Karimi | Oct 18, 2019 | 0 Comments

You may not have been aware that if you are stopped and arrested for a DUI in Washington, by state law your car is automatically impounded, which then leaves it open to be legally searched by the police. And depending on what the police find in your car, you might suddenly be facing more than a simple DUI charge.

But on Thursday, October 17, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that automatic impounding a car after a DUI arrest was unconstitutional. Mandatory seizure, which was passed by the Washington Legislature in 2011, violates a person's constitutional right not to be “disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.”

The Court stated that if a car was safely pulled off the road or a friend or family member of the arrested could come and get the car, then the police would need to get a warrant to search the car.

History of Mandatory Seizure Legislation

The case behind the Legislature's decision to pass a mandatory seizure law is also called “Hailey's Law” in Washington. In 2007, a woman was arrested for DUI when she was found passed out behind the wheel of her car in Bellingham. Because the Bellingham jail was overcrowded, the arresting officer drove her home, leaving her car at the arrest scene. But once she got home, she called a taxi to take her to her car, where she got inside and then crashed into a vehicle carrying Hailey French. French was severely injured and had to undergo multiple surgeries, and eventually, she sued the state, winning $1 million.

What Led to Overturning Hailey's Law

The most recent case that led to the Supreme Court overturning Hailey's Law involved Joel Villela. Villela was pulled over for speeding in Grant County, and he refused to take a field sobriety test so he was arrested for DUI. The arresting officer impounded Villela's vehicle, despite the fact that there were two passengers in the vehicle who could have driven it home. Once the vehicle was impounded, police searched and found various items that could be associated with drug dealing: baggies, scales, and a large sum of cash. When police then searched Villela, they found cocaine on his person.

Villela's attorneys fought to suppress the contents in his vehicle by arguing that the search of his vehicle was not a lawful seizure. Villela's attorneys also argued that the cost to get a person's vehicle out of impound can easily cost more than $1,000, which in some cases causes a person to lose their vehicle.

The Washington Supreme Court agreed. Justice Steve Gonzalez wrote, “Our constitution cannot be amended by statute, and while the legislature can give more protection to constitutional rights through legislation, it cannot use legislation to take that protection away.”

Knowledgable DUI Defense

If you have been arrested for DUI and had your rights even further upended by an unlawful seizure of your vehicle, you need the Law Offices of Steve Karimi by your side. Contact them at 206-621-8777 or fill out an online form today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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