This past Sunday, I came across a KIRO Investigative Report on the television. It is a rare occurrence when a local news station provides information worthy of a second thought. However, I will admit that Channel 7's fifteen-minute segment concerning off-duty DUI arrests within the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) has me thinking. The segment focused on 3 different SFD off-duty firefighters who had been arrested for DUI between 2009-2014. The expose highlighted how the SFD may not have been aware of such and, thus, the arrestees were allowed to continue driving SFD vehicles (i.e. Fire-Trucks) until licenses were eventually suspended/revoked by Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL). The KIRO investigative team proceeded to badger & question high-ranking SFD personnel regarding such, and implied that it was a near-travesty that someone merely "arrested" for DUI would be permitted to continue driving until/unless they had essentially proven their innocence. This investigative report not only misinterpreted the law, but also managed to convey that an accused is guilty unless proven innocent (atleast in the context of driving privileges). While the law regarding Civil driving suspensions in Washington State is undoubtedly different than the Criminal laws pertaining to DUI, this gumshoe investigative team managed to gloss over one's fundamental right to Due Process. Should anyone get behind the wheel with a breath/blood alcohol level of .080 or greater OR when their ability to drive is affected by any appreciable degree? Absolutely not. Such is one of the most devastating decisions a person can make. Should Washington State Fire Department agencies have a system in place to ensure they are immediately made aware of any employees arrested for DUI? Maybe. However, should an off-duty DUI arrestee be immediately prohibited from driving a vehicle for any purpose?
Let's go back to what an "arrest" actually means. Essentially one is "arrested" when a law enforcement officer (LEO) themselves believes a person has committed a crime. Now, the prosecuting authority (i.e. prosecutor's office), unlike the LEO, has been trained in the law, and may very well decide to not "file" a charge against the arrestee. Thus, if KIRO's investigative team had it their way, a driver's license would be suspended immediately after a DUI arrest even when the arrest never should have been made in the first place. It was clear within the first few minutes of the program that the "investigators" were unaware of how/when those arrested for DUI may have their driving privileges suspended/revoked. While I believe the media has a responsibility to accurately communicate information to the public, I don't expect Channel 7 News to necessarily be aware of the ins/outs of DUI law. Rather, what troubles me is the station's insinuation that all people arrested for DUI (or any crime for that matter), should suffer immediate consequences without the right to tell their side of the story & be afforded Due Process. I believe this general attitude stems from many people's belief that police officers always make the right decisions. Further, from society's yearning to demonize any behavior in the hemisphere of getting behind the wheel after having consumed alcohol. This notion was further supported by one of the KIRO 7 anchors commenting that she hoped the three DUI arrestees would take advantage of the City of Seattle's Alcohol Abuse programs, "so they get the help they obviously need." Never mind the fact that the majority of people arrested for DUI in Washington State are found by a state-certified Alcohol/Drug evaluator to not have a significant problem with alcohol or drugs. Regardless, these are the types of opinions that many jurors, prosecutors, and some judges walk into court with. This is why it is imperative that anyone arrested for DUI in Washington State immediately consult and eventually retain a highly-skilled Washington State DUI Defense attorney to represent them.
If you or anyone you know has been arrested for DUI in Washington State, the attorneys at Veitch Ault & Associates should be contacted immediately (425-452-1600).