Serious Accident Occurs After Police Fail to Impound Vehicle Following DUI Arrest

    32612731 - police car on the street at nightThis case involves a police officer who conducted a traffic stop of a car with a number of passengers who were returning from an intramural softball game after the car failed to stop at a stop sign. Upon approaching the car, the officer who conducted the traffic stop detected a strong scent of marijuana, at which point he ordered the driver out of the vehicle and initiated a search of his person. During the search, the officer discovered marijuana in the driver’s pocket, at which point the driver was arrested and taken into custody. Instead of impounding the vehicle, the officer let the other passengers in the vehicle drive away. After the vehicle was driven a short distance the driver then slammed into a tree, resulting in a number of serious injuries for all of the car’s passengers. It was alleged that the arresting officer failed to follow proper protocol by not impounding the vehicle.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • 1. Do you have familiarity with the subject matter described above?
    • 2. Have you ever published or lectured on this subject?
    • 3. What measures could have been taken to avoid the accident?

    Expert Witness Response E-007801

    I have familiarity with traffic stops, as well as the proper procedures for handling circumstances during such encounters, and I have written policies that guide personnel on traffic stops in general. It is important to first review what this department’s protocols for dealing with vehicles in these circumstances. If there is no written policy, then it is prudent to see how other officers in the force have dealt with similar situations in the past. As a police supervisor and chief have lectured during in-service classes about various liability matters that included allowing impaired operators to continue to operate, generally using Irwin vs Ware as a standard. Measures to prevent this may depend on the department’s policies and if those policies were followed. If no policies existed, the involved officer could have exercised wide discretion and towed the vehicle, driven the passengers not arrested to a safe location, contacted someone and arranged for their transportation to a safe location or otherwise made a reasonable accommodation to assure that they left the scene and arrived at a safe location.

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