State v. Murray: Improper Implied Consent Warnings Held Unimportant

Image result for implied consent warnings marijuana

In State v. Murray, the WA Supreme Court held that DUI breath test results should not be suppressed even though the police officers who informed defendants did not properly inform the defendants of THC warnings. In February, I discussed Robison’s Court of Appeals decision to suppress the BAC test before the WA Supreme Court re-addressed the issue on this most recent appeal.

Late one night, a state trooper observed Robison speeding through a restaurant parking lot toward a road. The trooper had to hit his brakes to avoid a collision as Robison exited the parking lot. The trooper decided a traffic stop was in order. The trooper could smell both alcohol and cannabis coming from Robison’s car. The officer investigated Robison for Driving While Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUI). Robison performed poorly on field sobriety tests and agreed to take a roadside breath test.

Based on the results, the officer arrested Robison for suspected driving under the influence (DUI) and took him to a police station. At the station, the trooper read Robison an implied consent warning from a standard form’s that did not mention the new statutory language concerning THC. The form warning did warn Robison that he was subject to having his driver’s license suspended, revoked, or denied if the test revealed he was under the influence of alcohol.

Robison argued a 3.6 motion to suppress the results of the breath test, arguing that the implied consent warning was inadequate because it did not mirror the statutory language regarding the consequences of a finding of THC in his blood. The district court commissioner concluded that the warnings accurately informed the defendant that the result of a breath test would reveal the alcohol concentration of his breath and that it would be misleading to advise or imply to the defendant that the breath test could obtain a THC reading.

Robison was found guilty. Robison appealed to the superior court, which reversed, concluding the officer had no discretion to leave out a portion of the implied consent warning. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision to suppress, and the WA Supreme Court accepted review on the State’s appeal.

Ultimately, the Court affirmed the lower courts and upheld Robison’s conviction. A driver’s implied consent to a breath test for alcohol, and the arresting officer’s duty to warn of the potential consequences of the test, have been part of our statutory system for decades. Both the legal consequences of driving while intoxicated and the details and exactitude of the warning required by the legislature have changed during that time. For example, Initiative 502, which decriminalized the recreational use of cannabis, also amended the implied consent statute. In relevant part, the amended implied consent statute said:

“(c) If the driver submits to the test and the test is administered, the driver’s license, permit, or privilege to drive will be suspended, revoked, or denied for at least ninety days if: (i) The driver is age twenty-one or over and the test indicates either that the alcohol concentration of the driver’s breath or blood is 0.08 or more or that the THC concentration of the driver’s blood is 5.00 or more.”

Robison argued that since some of the statutory language was omitted during his DUI investigation, the tests must be suppressed.

However, the WA Supreme Court disagreed:

“We find no case, and none have been called to our attention, that require officers to read an irrelevant statutory warning to a driver suspected of DUI. Instead, as acknowledged by counsel at oral argument, it has long been the reasonable practice of arresting officers to omit warnings related to underage drinking and commercial drivers’ licenses when advising those over 21 or driving on a noncommercial license.”

The Court further reasoned that the Implied Consent warnings did not omit any relevant part of the statute, accurately expressed the relevant parts of the statute, and were not misleading. Accordingly, the warnings substantially complied with the implied consent statute and the test results were properly admitted.

With that, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated Robison’s convictions.

My opinion? Bad decision. Like I said before, DUI investigations involving Implied Consent Warnings must keep up with today’s legislative amendments and other changing laws. The law is the law.