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Island, and
Whatcom Counties
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How Long is Too Long to Be Detained Before Being Arrested?

A recent trend in Skagit County that our law firm has noticed is that local officers are detaining those suspected of a DUI and calling for Washington State Patrol or Skagit County Sheriff’s Office to conduct the actual DUI investigation. So what?

According to Terry v. Ohio, an investigative detention must be temporary and not last longer than necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. Terry v. Ohio, 329 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968). This means that the officer must be pursuing active investigation while detaining a suspect. Terry v. Ohio primarily addresses the Fourth Amendment, which states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. The Terry Court sought to protect the right of personal security of every person living in the United States.

In the case of a suspected DUI, the responding officer must take steps to investigate whether or not the driver is under the influence while waiting on another agency to respond. Some forms of investigation could include interviewing the driver, having the driver perform Field Sobriety Tests, or having the driver take a Portable Breath Test (if the driver consents).

Historically, courts have looked at an officer’s actions to determine whether a detention was unreasonably long. Was the officer actively pursing investigation into the reason that he or she stopped the suspect? In two recent cases in Skagit County, the responding officer simply detained the suspect and called another agency to perform the DUI investigation. The responding officer took no further investigatory steps. He or she simply stood with the driver and waited.

According to Sharpe v. United States, a detention without investigation is essentially a de facto arrest, because the suspect is not free to leave. Sharpe v. United States, 660 F. 2d 967 (1981). The Sharpe Court highlights the importance of looking at the time reasonably needed to investigate the reason for the stop. If there are investigatory steps taken during the detention, then the detention is valid.

There is no set time that determines if a detention is unlawful; however, our firm has been successful in suppressing Field Sobriety Tests and Portable Breath Tests after suspects had been held for eleven minutes and twenty-five minutes with no additional investigation. State v. Williams, 102 Wn.2d 733, 739, 689 P.2d 1065 (1984).

So how long is too long to be detained before being arrested? It depends. If any investigatory steps were taken during the detention, then it is valid. However, if the responding officer did not take any steps towards investigating the reason for the stop, you may be successful in suppressing later evidence.

If you have been arrested or charged with a DUI, call our criminal defense firm at 360-419-0809 today to schedule your consultation. Having an attorney with decades of local experience can help ensure that you get the best legal representation. Powers Law Group is available to help you navigate the criminal court system.