This blog talks a lot about what does and does not constitute driving under the influence in the state of Washington. One aspect of its newsworthiness is the offenses is how much we over-legislate, over-enforce, and the subject here, over-prosecute people charged with DUI.
When prosecutors overstep their authority judges must be strong to stop them. The trial court in the following case wasn't strong enough to halt the prosecutors. Thankfully the Court of Appeals was.
The key question raised in State v. Rich was did the prosecutor attempt to prosecute a charge it had not enough facts to pursue. In May of 2012, Andrea Rich was pulled over in Burien by a King County Sheriff's Deputy after the deputy spotted the Acura MDX, which had been reported stolen about a week earlier. Shortly after stopping her, the deputy noticed a "seven to nine-year old boy" sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle.
Since Rich exhibited signs of intoxication, she underwent two blood alcohol tests about an hour after being arrested. The results of the tests revealed breath alcohol concentration levels of .188 and .183, well above the legal limit of DUI. Rich was booked on a charge of driving under the influence - but was also charged with reckless endangerment. She was eventually convicted on both of those charges (though acquitted on another charge of possession of a stolen vehicle).
Rich appealed the verdict, saying that the state did not successfully prove its case on the reckless endangerment charge. Apparently, the state felt that because Rich was driving drunk with a child in the car, it was enough to warrant a charge of reckless endangerment. However, no evidence of erratic or dangerous driving (other than speeding) was reported by the deputy, nor was any evidence of endangering any other motorists or pedestrians introduced.
When the case reached the Washington Court of Appeals Division I, the three justices ruled unanimously that there wasn't enough evidence to sustain a reckless endangerment charge. Though Rich's DUI conviction was upheld, the reckless endangerment conviction was vacated.
This important lesson for prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys shows that a DUI charge in and of itself does not necessarily mean that someone is guilty of reckless endangerment; there has to be additional factors to show that someone else's life was put in danger in order for such a charge to be sustained.