Caseloads and Delays in Washington’s Counties: How They May Affect You

Spokane publication The Inlander reports that the retirement of Spokane County judge Gregory Tripp, combined with efforts by the county to tighten its budgetary belt, has led to a backlog of DUI and domestic violence court cases that need to be heard. Although the district courts pledged to take up the slack, they seem to have been taken by surprise.

[Spokane district courts] didn’t foresee the kind of caseload they’ve had so far in 2018. Namely, district court has seen a staggering 28 percent increase in domestic violence case filings this year, along with a 25 percent increase in driving under the influence case filings over the same period, according to district court Judge Vance Peterson.

With regards the domestic violence side, the Inlander notes a fact that can be transferred to any county, including Thurston:

The city of Spokane [notes County Commissioner Josh Kerns] added 10 officers to the force in 2018. That could be responsible for some of the increase [in domestic violence cases being filed], with officers more easily able to respond to calls.

In short, higher staffing rates in a county’s law enforcement ranks will likely result in more domestic violence cases that need hearings. The bottom line is that if it can happen in Spokane County, it can happen in counties throughout Washington state.

What It Could Mean For Clients With DUI and Domestic Violence Charges

Counties across the nation face regular resource shortfalls. The lack of judicial reinforcements in Spokane County courts is a product of tougher Washington state law enforcement initiatives to combat the rising tides of both DUI and domestic violence incidents. Like most counties in the state, Thurston and others in the western part of the state face a rising caseload of both. If western Washington counties also (maybe inevitably) start facing resource shortfalls in their courts, both plaintiffs and defendants in DUI and domestic violence cases will likely face delays.

Lots of delays—in hearing schedules, filing procedures and all the other processes that make the state’s judicial bureaucracy tick. The wisest piece of advice to those charged with either a DUI or domestic violence: don’t delay things even further by missing filing deadlines and scheduled hearings in your case. And if necessary, get a responsible attorney on your side who can make sure to keep you on track.

An Extraordinary DUI Case & Three Lessons

What can we learn from a case where a law enforcement officer gets caught driving recklessly and dangerously under the influence of alcohol?

Turns out, more than you might think.

The Case

This past April, a former Stevens County Deputy Sheriff received a deferred sentence after driving while intoxicated through a crash scene and leading police on a high-speed chase last Thanksgiving in Flathead County, Montana.

The Flathead Beacon takes up the story:

According to court records, Hoover was driving down Montana Highway 35 in Creston on Nov. 23, 2017 when he drove through the scene of a fatal crash and struck a vehicle. A Montana Highway Patrol trooper who was helping investigate the crash got into his vehicle and started to chase Hoover […] Hoover and the trooper reached speeds upwards of 100 miles per hour.

[Hoover eventually turned] onto Sonstelie Road, where he stopped the vehicle and turned off the lights. Hoover then exited the vehicle with his hands in the air. Hoover admitted that he was looking at his phone when he approached the crash scene and never saw the vehicle he allegedly hit. Hoover took a breathalyzer test and blew a .178, twice the legal limit, according to court records.

The former officer was charged with felony criminal endangerment and misdemeanor DUI, to which he initially pleaded not guilty before later changing that plea. He was given a three-year deferred sentence for felony criminal endangerment, plus a suspended concurrent 175-day jail sentence.

Lessons We Can Learn From It

For one thing, it shows that of course anyone can get a DUI—even an off-duty law enforcement officer. But it also brings up three object lessons:

1. Keep your mobile phone out of reach when you drive so that it doesn’t distract you. Washington state distracted-driving laws are distinct from DUI, and they’re some of the strictest in the country. They disallow not just holding a personal device while you drive, but also associate an additional fine to activities like eating and drinking, applying makeup, shaving, and others if they do contribute to a traffic violation.

2. If you get into an accident, stay put—especially if you’ve had even a single drink. Don’t drive away, because you don’t need a hit-and-run on top of a DUI charge.

3. Do not submit to a breathalyzer test. Besides the obvious mistakes Deputy Hoover made, he somehow failed to remember that the test is voluntary in most states (including Montana as well as Washington) and officers can rely on it to build probable cause to arrest you.

Washington Cracks Down on Left-Lane Camping

Do you enjoy driving in the left lane on the freeway? It’s understandable — it’s less congested, and you can get where you’re going a lot more efficiently. But using the left lane for long periods, a.k.a. “left-lane camping,” is actually illegal. The left lane is for passing slower vehicles only; as soon as you pass the slower car, you should move back into the right lane.

Says Who?

According to Washington state law RCW 46.61.100, section 2, “all vehicles shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, except (a) when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, (b) when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow, (c) when moving left to allow traffic to merge, or (d) when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, exit, or into a private road or driveway when such left turn is legally permitted.”

Basically, use the left lane only when you need to pass a slower-moving vehicle, and make sure that you move back over to the right lane once you have passed that slow poke. As tempting as it may be to hang out in the left lane, it might cost you.

Expensive Consequences

Left-lane camping is a common offense. In 2016, Washington State Patrollers stopped over 16,000 people for camping in the left lane. If you are pulled over for staying the left lane too long, you can expect to pay a hefty fine of $136.

What Does This Mean for DUI?

An officer can pull you over for hanging out in the left lane, which can then lead to other complications. In fact, a recent case upheld left-lane camping as a legal basis for pulling you over and then discovering you were also driving under the influence. Simply put, driving continuously in the left lane is a traffic infraction for which an officer can pull you over. If you’ve been drinking or consuming controlled substances, you then run the risk of being charged with DUI or DWI. So, don’t take any unnecessary risks—just stick to the right lane unless you’re passing.

The Law Office of David Lousteau, PLLC

The Law Office of David Lousteau, PLLC