State v. Rivera-Santos: Why Crossing State Lines – Intoxicated – Is Double Trouble

Should police officers stop pursuit when car chases cross State lines?

We’ve all seen the 70’s police chase movies: rebellious anti-hero leads police on wild car chase, anti-hero crosses state line, the police immediately stop chasing, anti-hero gets out of car, smokes a cigarette in front of enraged officer, the movie ends . . .

. . . unfortunately, if you believe in this Hollywood ending, think again.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfmfa=opinions.showOpinionTextOnly&filename=814457MAJ&printOnly=y

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Fairhurst, the WA Supreme Court determined that the defendant, who drove under the influence of alcohol in both Washington and Oregon, could be convicted of a DUI in both states without violating his constitutional rights.

Rivera-Santos led police on a chase that started on the Washington side of I-5 and ended on the Oregon side. He was found to have a blood-alcohol content level of .17 percennt (more than twice the legal limit), and convicted by an Oregon court of driving under the influence. He was also charged with a DUI in Clark County District Court, but Rivera-Santos argued that it should be dismissed under the constitutional protections against double-jeopardy (i.e. being punished twice for the same crime).

Justice Fairhurst wrote that convicting Rivera-Santos in Washington would not be double-jeopardy, as it was a separate crime.  He drove while drunk in Oregon, and was punished for that by an Oregon court. He also drove while drunk in Washington, and a Washington court could punish him for that separate crime.

My opinion?  If it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, then it must be a duck.  Said differently, this legal decision looks like double jeopardy, smells like double jeopardy, therefore it must be double jeopardy.

For those who don’t know, “Double Jeopardy” happens when defendants are prosecuted twice for the same offense.  It’s unconstitutional.  The Double Jeopardy Clause protects against three distinct abuses: [1] a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; [2] a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and [3] multiple punishments for the same offense.’ U.S. v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435, 440 (1989).

Here, the WA Supremes stated that Mr. Rivera-Santos committed two different crimes in two different states.  Fine, I can agree with that.  HOWEVER, I disagree with their decision that charging these crimes is not double jeopardy.  Why do I disagree?  Because these “two crimes” arose from the same facts and circumstances.  Mr. Rivera-Santos did not steal candy from a 7-11 in Oregon, cross State lines, and then steal candy from a 7-11 in Washington.  The crime of DUI is, essentially, driving while intoxicated.   Although Mr. Rivera-Santos drove across State lines while intoxicated, he was DUI only one time during that crossing.  Therefore, he should only be punished once.   Anything more is double jeopardy.

Gotta disagree with the WA Supremes on this one . . . 🙁