What Rights are you waiving by joining CCAT? That should be your first question before sighing up with the Centralia Police Department’s new initiative to combat car thefts, the Centralia Combating Auto Theft (“CCAT”) program.

Participants can register their vehicle’s information with the department, and by doing so, authorizes a stop of that vehicle anytime between 1:00 am and 5:00 am. Officers who see vehicles out at this hour with a reflective Tiger CCAT window sticker provided to participants have the car owner’s consent to stop that car for any reason, or no reason at all, to ensure that the car is either driven by the owner, or another person that has the owner’s permission.

“It is very important that a citizen understand the rights he or she is waiving before agreeing to the CCAT,” said Jakob McGhie, Attorney with Althauser Rayan Abbarno, LLP. “Reasonable suspicion to make a stop is a very important aspect of our legal process.”The theory supporting the program appears to be twofold: 1) finding stolen vehicles and returning those vehicles to its rightful owner with speed and diligence, and 2) deterring criminals from stealing the car in the first place, because who would steal a car with a giant tiger sticker that gives the cops permission to pull you over without probable cause?

This is a reminder of the legal principles that normally govern our interactions with law enforcement. Under our Washington Constitution, we have heightened protections for privacy than what is provided by the Fourth Amendment. These protections ensure that you can’t be “seized” by the government unless it can articulate reasonable, individualized suspicion that you are engaged in illegal behavior. But there are exceptions to this protection, one of which is consent. You can consent to either a seizure by law enforcement, or to search through things that an officer otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to search, such as your home or your car. CCAT utilizes the Consent Exception to authorize a stop of a vehicle that would otherwise be illegal, if there is no other reason to believe the vehicle is engaged in illegal behavior, like speeding or impaired driving.

“We can all understand the CCAT program from a law enforcement perspective; however, participants are waiving some significant rights that can lead to unintended consequences,” added McGhie. “Before participating in CCAT, I would recommend consulting with a criminal defense attorney. Like many other government programs, overzealous use or abuse of this program could lead to unconstitutional stops, and violations of a participant’s rights.”

If you or a loved one has been charged with a misdemeanor, felony, or DUI, contact Jake McGhie with Althauser Rayan Abbarno for a FREE Consultation in Centralia or Olympia at 360-736-1301 or at Centralialaw.com.