Quincy DUI stop leads high court to nix Washington’s vehicle-impound law

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OLYMPIA — A DUI stop in Quincy led the Washington Supreme Court on Wednesday to throw out the state’s law on impounding the vehicles of intoxicated drivers.

In January 2019, a Quincy police sergeant arrested Joel Villela after a traffic stop, saying he smelled alcohol on the driver’s breath. Then, as Washington law requires, he impounded Villela’s Jeep … where he happened to find sandwich bags, pipes, digital scales and $340 in cash.

Police allegedly found cocaine on Villela’s person, and Grant County prosecutors charged him with DUI and drug possession with intent to distribute. Villela challenged the seizure of his Jeep, saying the impoundment law is unconstitutional – a violation of lawful seizure requirements.

Grant County Judge David Estudillo agreed, and suppressed the evidence found in the vehicle. On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court upheld Estudillo’s finding and unanimously struck down the law, which has only been on the books since 2011.

It’s part of what’s called “Hailey’s Law,” passed after a Whatcom County woman was severely injured by an intoxicated driver who got behind the wheel again shortly after being arrested.

Writing for his fellow justices, Steven Gonzalez said, “Our constitution cannot be amended by statute, and while the legislature can give more protection to constitutional rights through legislation, it cannot use legislation to take that protection away.”