Not Above the Law: Officer Arrested for DUI

According to an article from the News Tribune, a Lakewood police officer was arrested for a DUI after crashing his unmarked police vehicle off-road. The officer, Eric Bell, claimed he swerved off-road to avoid hitting a deer.

The police report identified two witnesses to the crash, one of whom could not corroborate the presence of any deer on the road. Law enforcement responded a 911 call from one of the witnesses and investigated. According to the police report, Bell admitted to drinking with friends roughly 9 hours before the crash happened.

When asked how much he had to drink, Bell said “I couldn’t tell ya … A couple beers, sweet tea vodka.”

Bell refused to submit to a field sobriety test (FST), insisting that the investigating officer did not have enough evidence to support probable cause to make an arrest. However, the officer mentioned that he observed Bell slurring his words and could smell alcohol coming from him.

The witness who called the police also reported that Bell appeared drunk to her. According to the police report, she told Bell she was going to call the police. In response, Bell loudly exclaimed “no.”

After Bell was arrested, police administered a breathalyzer test at the police station. The results showed Bell had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.23% – well over twice the legal limit of 0.08%.

Legal Implications for Bell

Bell will likely face prosecution for DUI, and disciplinary action for telling a witness not to call the police. Lakewood police officers are required to notify their department and local law enforcement agencies in the event of an accident involving a city-owned police car. Furthermore, police officers are prohibited from directing or intimidating witnesses not to report incidents to fellow officers and other agencies.

It is interesting to note that Bell was within his rights to refuse an FST. As Bell indicated, police need enough evidence to execute a valid arrest. This is because a legal arrest requires probable cause that a crime has or is being committed. Police routinely use an FST or breathalyzer test to develop probable cause for a DUI. Drivers may refuse to take an FST. However, under Washington’s implied consent law, drivers may not refuse a chemical test for blood alcohol content.

Beyond FSTs, observations during the ordinary course of talking to the driver may also be used as factors to establish probable cause, such as slurring words and detecting the odor of alcohol. Furthermore, the Washington Supreme Court held in 2016 that the defendant’s refusal to submit to an FST may be used as evidence of guilt at their trial.

Skilled DUI Defense Lawyers in Lynwood

DUI defense cases can be complex. It’s impossible to predict Bell’s culpability with certainty, based on the publicly reported facts. Seemingly stray details regarding anything from arrest procedure to witness credibility could mean the difference between a guilty verdict and acquittal. That’s why it’s important to hire an experienced Lynwood DUI defense lawyer as soon as you find yourself in legal trouble. The sooner we represent you, the easier it is to determine what your viable options are for defending a DUI charge.

Please call (425) 296-9358 or contact us online to schedule an appointment with one of our highly qualified Lynwood defense attorneys.

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