The Rise, Fall & Rebirth of Hailey’s Law

This Legal Guide discusses the colorful history of Hailey’s Law, a statute designed to prevent people from driving while under the influence (DUI).

THE HISTORY

Hailey’s Law was named after Hailey French of Whatcom County. French was an innocent motorist who was severely injured in a head-on collision with a drunk driver on Mount Baker Highway in January 2007. The driver, Janine Parker, had been arrested for DUI several hours before the crash but was not booked into jail, nor was her vehicle impounded. Parker was driven home by a state trooper who warned her not to drive until she had sobered up. She ignored the warning, went back to her car and then caused the crash. French was permanently injured. She was awarded $5.5 million by a jury after she sued Whatcom County and the State Patrol. For more information on the history of Hailey’s Law, please read “Hailey’s Story” linked below.

HOW IT WORKED

In 2011, Senate Bill 5000, also known as Hailey’s Law, was created to ensure that a drunk driver does not return to his or her car and drive following his arrest and release. It also removes whatever discretion a deputy or police officer once had in determining what to do with a vehicle and instead requires that it be towed from the scene of a DUI arrest. After the vehicle is impounded, the law places a mandatory 12-hour impound on the vehicle. Hailey’s Law effectively means that a vehicle will be towed from the scene of a DUI arrest and then held under impound for a minimum of 12 hours before it can be released by the company that tows it. Furthermore, most towing companies will generally demand payment for a tow and for storage before releasing an impounded vehicle.

HAILEY’S LAW HELD UNCONSTITUTIONAL

On October 17, 2019, the Washington Supreme Court decided State v. Villela, which overturned Hailey’s Law on the grounds that the statute violated Article I, Section 7 of our state’s constitution.  The opinion reasoned that for the government to perform a search or seizure of private property there must exist a valid warrant or an exception to that warrant requirement. The Court further reasoned that it has been long held that impoundment of a private citizen’s vehicle is a seizure, and that the warrantless seizures are “per se” unreasonable unless one of those narrow exceptions exists.

“RCW 46.55.360 waives what our constitution requires before a car may be seized: either probable cause or a long-standing exception to the warrant requirement, such as community caretaking. In addition, in the absence of probable cause, a car may be impounded only after individualized consideration of reasonable alternatives.”

With that, the WA Supreme Court seemingly delivered the death blow to Hailey’s law.

THE RESURRECTION OF HAILEY’S LAW

On March 25, 2020 Governor Jay Inslee signed House Bill 2483, or “Hailey’s Law 2.0,” as it’s being called. It will take effect June 10, 2020. The bill allows a law enforcement officer to direct a vehicle be impounded when no reasonable alternatives exist after someone has been stopped for driving under the influence. The law also states that if the officer determines impounding the vehicle is necessary to keep the public safe, it must be impounded for a minimum of 12 hours.

Representative Van Werven, R-Lynden, sponsored the bill after the original Hailey’s Law was ruled unconstitutional by the Washington State Supreme Court in October 2019. The new law passed the Legislature unanimously.

GET MORE GENERAL INFORMATION ON VEHICLE IMPOUNDS

For more information on the legal landscaping surrounding vehicle impoundment and inventory searches, please read my Legal Guide titled, “VEHICLE IMPOUNDS: THE REASONS, THE RULES AND (HOPEFULLY) THE RELEASE.”

Additional resources provided by attorney Alexander Ransom: