Washington Implied Consent Law for DUI cases
The state of Washington is one of the seven U.S. states that has legalized marijuana for recreational use. Something that can occur when a new law is passed is the emergence of new legal issues as the law is being implemented. Recently, the Washington Supreme Court had the opportunity to address an issue that arose because of the new marijuana law in two cases. The issue was whether or not the results of a breath test "should be suppressed because the THC warnings were not given." This case is discussed in further detail below.
In the first case, Washington v. Robinson, Darren Robinson was pulled over after he nearly got into an accident with a state trooper. The trooper suspected Robinson was under the influence so he had Robinson take a breath test and then arrested him for DUI. In Washington v. Murray, Murray was pulled over after a trooper spotted her failing to stay in her lane. Murray was also suspected of driving under the influence and was subsequently arrested.
Both defendants were read the state's implied consent warnings. When the recreational marijuana law was passed, new language addressing THC levels was added to the implied consent statute. It was changed to say, in relevant part:
The officer shall warn the driver, in substantially the following language, that:
(c) If the driver submits to the test and the test is administered, the driver's license, permit, or privilege to drive will be suspended, revoked, or denied for at least ninety days if:
(i) The driver is age twenty-one or over and the test indicates either that the alcohol concentration of the driver's breath or blood is 0.08 or more or that the THC concentration of the driver's blood is 5.00 or more.
However, neither Robinson nor Murray were given a warning that included the newly added THC warnings. Both defendants attempted to have the results of the breath test suppressed because they were not given the full implied consent warning. Both were denied by the district court commissioner, but the superior court found in both defendant's cases that the results should have been suppressed and the Court of Appeals affirmed these rulings. The state Supreme Court then took up the issue.
In order to decide whether the warnings read to Murray and Robinson were sufficient, the court evaluated the meaning of the section of the implied consent statute that stated, "The officer shall warn the driver, in substantially the following language." The defendants wanted the court to "hold that since some of the statutory language was omitted, the tests must be suppressed." The court stated that "[w]e find no case, and none have been called to our attention, that require officers to read an irrelevant statutory warning to a driver suspected of DUI." The court pointed out that it wasn't unusual for officer's to leave out part of the warning when it wasn't applicable to the case. For example, if the suspect was over 21, there was no need to read the part of the implied consent statute that dealt with underage drinking.
The court stated that "[t]he fundamental purpose of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and carry out the intent of the legislature considering the statute as a whole." It further reasoned, "[r]ead as a whole, the legislature has made its intent clear: the arresting officer does not have to perfectly incant the words of the implied consent statute; he or she must simply give the accused a relevant warning in substantially the statutory language." The court determined that officers do not have to include portions of the warning that are not applicable.
The court further reasoned that under the substantial compliance doctrine, as long as the objectives of the statute are met, then the the statute has been complied with. The court stated that the objectives of the implied consent statute were:
(1) to discourage individuals from driving an automobile while under the influence of intoxicants, (2) to remove the driving privileges from those individuals disposed to driving while inebriated, and (3) to provide an efficient means of gathering reliable evidence of intoxication or non-intoxication.
Since the "the breath test could not ascertain THC levels in the blood," the court reasoned that the statute did not require an officer to give that portion of the warning as "[n]ot giving an irrelevant and potentially misleading THC warning does not further [the] objectives [of the statute.]" The court further stated that, because the implied consent warning is meant to help driver's decided whether or not to submit to a breath test, "being told of the consequences of a result the test does not give does not help a driver make an informed choice."
The Washington Supreme Court then held that "an implied consent warning substantially complies with the statute when it (1) does not omit any relevant portion of the statute, (2) accurately expresses the relevant portions of the statute, and (3) is not otherwise misleading." The court determined that the warnings that the defendants were given were adequate and reinstated their guilty verdicts.
Seattle DUI Attorney Aaron Wolff limits his practice to representing people accused of driving under the influence in the greater Puget Sound area. He handles both the criminal case as well as the DOL administrative hearing. Mr. Wolff offers a free initial consultaton and can be reached directly at 425-284-2000.