The Washington State Legislature passed Substitute House Bill 6279 on March 5, 2014, and it was signed by the Governor on March 27, 2014. This new law, which becomes effective on June 12, 2014, allows a district or municipal court judge in which an offense is alleged to have occurred, to authorize a search warrant for persons or evidence located anywhere in the state. This is a big departure from the previous law, which only allowed municipal and district court judges to authorize a warrant located in the county in which the judge served.
Additionally, applications for warrants can now be made by electronic devices, including email, using electronic or digital signatures. In fact, if the request comes from a law enforcement agency-issued cell phone, the officer need only include a name and badge number without any signature or other authentication. Previously, officers could only get warrants via telephone and had to have actual signatures, so it also required a fax.
Similarly, judges can authorize warrants simply by email or other electronic response. This law seemingly provides for more immediate access to judges for cops seeking warrants, but one has to wonder whether veracity loses out to convenience in this deal. This law dispenses with a lot of the traditional trappings of trustworthiness solemnity and formality underlying judicial authority to restrict civil liberties. Only time will tell if the “electronic substitutes” are an adequate replacement.
Washington’s DUI laws were recently amended to include a “per se” marijuana offense, meaning that if a person drives with a THC concentration of 5.0 or higher that person can be convicted of DUI, and/or suffer administrative license consequences. Although prior to 2013 a driver could be cited for driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol, there was never a particular level set by the legislature that on its own would require a license suspension through DOL. Now, if a blood test reflects 5.0 or more, no other evidence of intoxication is required, and the DOL can initiate a license suspension proceeding.
There are several interesting twists to the application of the new law. One is that the laws related to licensing consequences for commercial driving – that is driving IN A COMMERCIAL VEHICLE – were not similarly amended. Under RCW 46.25.120 and RCW 46.25.090, a license disqualification is based on either 1) refusing the test or 2) an alcohol concentration over .04. The legislature did not add any provisions permitting administrative disqualifications for tests with positive drug levels. Although an officer suspecting drugs is authorized to request a blood test under these statutes, there is no mandatory administrative license disqualification unless the person refuses the test or the alcohol concentration is over .04 (.02 for those under 21).
While this is probably a legislative oversight more than anything else, it creates a strange dichotomy in the law whereby there are potentially greater penalties for driving personal vehicles than for driving commercial vehicles. This remains something to watch for in the future.
When a person is arrested for a misdemeanor DUI in Washington State and taken to the police station the police will usually ask: “Will you take the breath test?” The answer to this question can greatly influence the complications that will arise from the DUI arrest, including length of license suspension and also the mandatory minimum DUI criminal penalties.
Some people don’t answer with a “yes’ or “no” but rather with the statement “I would like a blood test.”