In almost all DUI cases the original basis of the stop is for a traffic infraction. In many of those DUI cases lane travel is an issue and the underlying infraction. RCW 46.61.140(1) defines what is a lane travel violation here in Washington State. It states, “vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”
So here is the scenario. A law enforcement officer is on the freeway late at night. They observe a vehicle ahead of them. This vehicle crosses their lane of traffic briefly and then moves back into their lane. It may happen a second time again, then the officer initiates a stop citing a lane travel violation. After some initial questioning the driver is suspecting of drinking alcohol and is asked to exit the vehicle. A DUI investigation is conducted and the driver is ultimately arrested.
This type of scenario happens every day in every part of the country. However here in Washington State, a recent case of State v. Prado has squarely and definitely addressed the issue of whether a brief crossing of a traffic lane is a sufficient basis to conduct a traffic seizure under RCW 46.61.140 for a lane violation statute.
That Court has found that brief incursions are to be expected when driving and therefore are not grounds for a traffic infraction as long as there is no danger to other vehicles. Now the Prado court failed to discuss how many times a vehicle crosses a lane and for how long constitute an infraction. And this is where most likely the Prosecution and the Defense disagree when it comes to these types of legal issues.
My opinion is the Prado court used two very important terms when reaching its decision. The first being the word “brief” and the second being the word “incursions.” The definition of brief is “of short duration.” The word “incursions” is plural meaning more than one. Therefore I believe if the lane violations are brief in duration, and are more than once than the Prado case applies. The Prosecution on the other hand always argue that the facts in Prado are what control, and in that case the lane violation only occurred once and it was for one second. Anything more is inapplicable. This thinking in my opinion is incorrect and should always be challenged.
Recently I had a case with this very same scenario. Fortunately for my client and me the Judge ruled our favor and found the terms “brief,” and “incursions” meant brief in time and more than one. If you have been stopped for a lane violation statute and were subsequently arrested for a DUI its important you speak with a Seattle DUI Attorney immediately, contact my office to set up a free constitution and ensure your constitutional rights are protected.