Within a matter of hours, Lt. Jason Kimball of the Nampa Police Department felt like the ability to do his job took a significant hit.
The reason? A June 12 Idaho Supreme Court ruling that says law enforcement can’t arrest individuals for misdemeanor crimes unless officers saw the crime occur or had a warrant. Now officers and deputies around the state say they are grappling with how to best do their jobs.
It’s only been nine days since the ruling, but Kimball and Nampa police have already been tested.
According to Nampa Police Capt. Curt Shankel, a call for a disturbance was made at 7:05 p.m. June 16 near South Grays Lane and East Park Ridge Drive.
When officers arrived, Justin K. Spriggs, 18, was found outside of a vehicle — not operating it, Shankel said. To complete the investigation into the disturbance, Spriggs was transported to the police station and was given a blood-alcohol test and a summons to court for driving under the influence.
According to a criminal affidavit, Spriggs had a blood-alcohol level of 0.163/0.160. The legal alcohol limit for minors under 21 years old is 0.02, compared to 0.08 for adults. Spriggs then left the police station on foot, Shankel said. Because officers did not witness him driving during the initial disturbance, and with the new Supreme Court ruling, they said they were unable to formally arrest him.
At just after 11 p.m. that same night, Spriggs was driving again near 15th Avenue and 2nd Street, according to the affidavit. The officer who arrested him wrote that Spriggs was driving westbound on 3rd Street, which is a one-way street east.
The officer also noted that Spriggs had been charged for driving under the influence earlier that day but had been released.
The officer said in his report that he recognized the driver, Justin Spriggs, from an earlier DUI in Nampa on the same date. Spriggs had been given a citation and released, the officer wrote.
The latter incident took place just over two miles away from where the initial citation was issued.
“It definitely makes it a lot harder. There’s some frustration level there,” Shankel said in an interview. “I don’t blame the courts. They ruled how they felt they needed to. ... Whether that’s battery, domestic batteries, DUIs, vandalism, it definitely makes it a lot harder. And in those cases of violence that don’t reach level of felony … it makes protecting the victim or the public harder.”
Prior to the ruling, law enforcement was able to make arrests on domestic violence, battery and driving under the influence cases on scene.
Now? Unless they were there to see it, officers must let them walk for the time being.
The Idaho Supreme Court ruling
The reasoning for this, Justice Joel Horton wrote in his decision, was that a law added in Idaho in 1979 that allowed for warrantless arrests if an officer had reasonably believed a misdemeanor assault or battery had occurred was unconstitutional due to “the (state’s) constitutional standard barring unlawful searches and seizures,” per the Associated Press.
Much of the focus on the impact of the ruling has so far centered around domestic violence calls. Annie Pelletier Hightower, the director of law and policy with the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, told the Associated Press immediately after the ruling that forced separation of individuals by arrest following domestic violence calls creates a safer environment.
“If law enforcement doesn’t have the opportunity to separate by arrest, then we’re back into the situation where it is the person who has experienced abuse and who is in the most upheaval, likely with the fewest resources, (who is) forced to leave the home,” she told the Associated Press.
But misdemeanors come in all shapes and sizes. That includes the inability to arrest someone who was almost certainly operating a vehicle while eight times over the legal blood-alcohol limit, as was the case last weekend.
“In my career, that is probably the most significant change in rulings,” Kimball told the Statesman in a phone interview, adding he is concerned about keeping the public safe under the new ruling.
“How do I do my job? It’s a big impact,” he said.
The new ruling leaves open the possibility of letting dangerous individuals back into the public, Kimball said.
“Battery, DUI ... those are things, we are confident, (where) we saved lives in the past,” he said. “Now we have to find solutions.”
Police seeking new solutions
Those solutions include working more closely than ever with the prosecutor’s office, Kimball and Shankel said, to obtain arrest warrants or investigate if any felonies were committed during the incident rather than misdemeanors. Each case is situational, however, and requires additional details and investigation.
It also means retraining officers, according to Nampa Police Cpl. Doug Harward. Officers must now not only conduct an investigation, but must issue a citation, reach out to the prosecutor’s office and obtain a warrant, all of which can take a great deal of time, particularly compared to before, he said.
“You’re looking at … in my estimation, training and experience, an hour,” Harward said. “So, that extends the time it takes an officer off the street … just to arrest someone we could have arrested prior.”
The Statesman reached out to the Boise Police Department to see if it had been affected by the recent ruling.
“The Boise Police Department is committed to following the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding warrantless misdemeanor arrests,” spokeswoman Haley Williams said in a statement. “We are following legal advice from our City Attorney’s office regarding the impact of this ruling on our day to day operations. As new situations come up we are encouraging officers to get legal advice even if it’s on a case by case situation.”