A traffic stop is a seizure for purposes of the Washington State Constitution. Such a stop is permissible only if the initial interference with the suspect’s freedom of movement is justified at its inception. Law enforcement is not justified in stopping a person absent a citable infraction or crime.
When an unlawful seizure occurs, all subsequently discovered evidence is fruit of the poisonous tree and must be suppressed. This “suppression” issue comes up frequently with stops that occur in parking lots.
The “Rules Of The Road” Typically Only Apply To Highways
The Revised Code of Washington has a section known as the “Rules of the Road.” RCW 46.61.005 specifically identifies where in the State of Washington the rules mandated in Title 46.61 are to be applied.
The provisions of this chapter relating to the operation of vehicles refer exclusively to the operation of vehicles upon highways except “where a different place is specifically referred to in a given section.”
The provisions of RCW 46.52.010 through 46.52.090, 46.61.500 through 46.61.525, and 46.61.5249 shall apply upon highways and elsewhere throughout the State. RCW 46.52.010 through 46.52.090 refer to accidents and reports. RCW 46.61.500 through 46.61.525 refer to Reckless Driving and the various DUI Statutes. RCW 46.61.5249 is the Negligent Driving Statute. “Elsewhere throughout the State” means that these specific statutes are enforceable in parking lots. All others are not.
Police Need To Pull You Over On A “Highway”
The great majority of infractions in which people are pulled over in parking lots do not fit within the listed exceptions and are improper. In other words, for the majority of infractions, the police must pull you over on a “highway.” The term “highway” is defined in RCW 46.04.197:
Highway means the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.
In many cases, the Officers will state in their reports that they pulled the defendant over in a parking lot. However, if that parking lot does not meet the definition of “Highway,” it does not fit under RCW 46.61.005. As an example, let’s imagine there is a stop sign in a parking lot. If you roll through the stop sign and an Officer sees you, they will probably pull you over. If you smell like alcohol when they contact you, they will probably investigate you for DUI. If you have consumed enough alcohol, they will arrest you and process you for DUI.
While the above situation does happen on a regular basis, the outcome is not proper under the law. The initial rolling through the stop sign is not occurring on a “highway” and, therefore, you should not be stopped. If your attorney correctly challenges the initial stop, the evidence gathered after the stop would be suppressed. End result – case dismissed. Remember, if a stop is not justified at its inception then the following contact is impermissible.
If you need legal assistance with a traffic infraction or a DUI arrest that occurred in a parking lot, please contact our office for a free consultation. We provide articles on our blog for informational purposes only and it cannot substitute for legal advice. We are always available 24/7 to help answer questions so don’t hesitate to reach out. You can fill out our “contact us” link or call us at 360.792.1000 (Bremerton) or 253.312.3838 (Gig Harbor).