So whats a pretextual stop? To put it simply its when a police officer stops a vehicle for some kind of minor infraction with the sole purpose of the stop not being the actual infraction committed, but to investigate possible criminal activity. You see lots of stops like this in DUI cases, especially here in Seattle, Washington, where we have lots of State patrol troopers traveling up and down I5 at night looking for people to pull over and investigate for DUI.
Recently the Court of Appeals Division III in Washington ruled on a case involving a pretextual stop. In this case a patrol officer followed Gilbert Chacon Arreola’s blue Chevy for over a half mile because it fit the description of a car reportedly driven by a drunk driver. While watching for signs of impaired driving, the officer noticed an illegally modified muffler, and decided to initiate a stop based on that and nothing more. In other words the sole basis of the stop being to investigate for a possible DUI.
The Court of Appeals held this was an unconstitutional stop because the Officer’s primary reason for the stop was not to cite the alleged infraction for a modified muffler, but because the officer admitted his primary purpose was to investigate for DUI. And despite following the vehicle for approximately 45 seconds, no observations indicative of impairment was observed, and therefore this stop was without authority of law.
I meet with many people who tell me the same thing. They were driving home on I5 or I90 or 520 and they got pulled over for not signaling, for following a car too closely, or some other minor infraction. When they get contacted by the officer, the officer doesn’t talk to them about the reason for the stop and explain why they are being pulled over, but immediately asks if they have been drinking and if they have then they begin a DUI investigation. In my opinion this is unlawful and these kinds of unlawful seizures should be challenged.
If you have recently been contacted by law enforcement and you were arrested after allegedly committing a minor traffic infraction contact my officer immediately to ensure your constitutional rights are protected.