DUI. Three simple letters, but such a complicated and fascinating topic. Merely a misdemeanor, yet such a deep wound it leaves, both for the offender and the victim involved. Vagrants to politicians, payday loan managers to doctors, firemen to cops—it’s the great equalizer.
It’s also like a legal shark, with many rows of teeth to gnaw at you when you’re caught in its gullet—with another row having been added just this week.
Would you believe that in America a cop can force blood from your arm? I don’t mean by giving a stern look and asking very loudly, either. No, by “force” I mean having a group of people take you to a hospital’s mandated padded psychiatric evaluation room, hold each limb down if necessary, and stick a needle in your vein while you froth from the lips with drug- or alcohol-induced rage. Crazy, no? No refusal, no lawyer present, just a very annoyed nurse and a bunch of excited orderlies if it’s been a slow day. (Lawyers and court come later.)
Back in the day it could only be done if you were suspected of being boogered up and there was an injury or death as a result of your accident. These days, however, if you’d had a prior DUI or vehicular assault (or homicide)—ever, not just 10 years back anymore—or there is a passenger under the age of 16, “From your arm or from your lip, we’ll be having your blood,” as they used to say. (Oh, and it’s still not your choice, blood or breath. Old wives tale.)
And despite its misdemeanor status, once you hit Lucky Conviction No. 4, you graduate to the felony big leagues like murderers and bid-rigging Chattanooga city contractors.
By now, several of you reading this are getting warm about the face and gripping the paper (or mouse) tightly in a mix of anger (or more accurately, shame) and introspection, having been down the DUI road before. Relax. It’s in your past and will generally remain there, but it’s a tough row to hoe—and not by accident. Orphaned kids and grieving parents have a chilling effect on legislators, but we have all been guilty of it most likely, and quite simply not everyone gets caught.
With that bit out of the way, you always hear your buddy (lets call him “Hank” for no reason at all) complain about how “It was such bullshit.” How he was a victim of a quota or a chip on the cop’s shoulder or how he was prescribed those medications so it couldn’t be illegal to drive. There was ice on the road, he didn’t wreck because he was drunk, but, but, but … “Feh.”
I started my career working Brainerd. Everyone partied there, they all drove drunk, and it didn’t take a lot of training to make a case. But a good cop had his or her ducks in a row or you wasted a lot of time. This demographic was going to have lawyers and preachers show up.
Did you know that it’s still illegal to drive without your headlights on, even when there are street lights sufficiently lighting the place? (I know you probably know, but the customers always argue it.) What you probably don’t know is that about 8 in 10 drivers pulling out of a bar at night without headlights on are drunk, and that’s a good reason to follow them. Swerving (or as it’s known in the business, “crossing left of center”), with headlights on or off, those are signs, but I prefer “speeding” or failure to use a turn signal (or a bad tag or tail light) to establish the reason for pulling one over. Then I just talk to you.
I’m not going into detail about the tests we administer because while I’m a terrible human being, I’m not giving advice on how to beat them, accidentally or otherwise. But practice made me good enough that I could call your blood-alcohol level (or B.A.C.) within about two-tenths of a point like Babe Ruth could call his home runs. As I got better I didn’t care if you refused the test (as you’re advised), because besides the automatic suspended license, I could articulate your conviction to a judge or jury without blood or breath.
Eventually I went from counting centerline dips on the midnight shift to becoming a dayshift patrolman where I let the skill atrophy due to infrequency. But I’d still get reminded now and then by someone who was N.D.D.Y. (Not Done Drinking Yet) who would pass my marked patrol car at 10 am with a flat tire and the rim kicking up a rooster tail of sparks as they ran a red light in the center lane-—and off I’d go.
DUI: The great equalizer. The bringer of death in some cases, but humility in all, is just a few beers or drink away, so be mindful of the beast. And know that if I’m making you recite the “Two All Beef Patties” song while leaning backwards, you’re probably about to go free and I’m just screwing with you. But if you’ve made a parent grieve, there’s a padded room and an annoyed nurse with a clipboard that literally has your name written on it waiting for you.
Behave. And be safe.
Columnist Alex Teach is a full-time police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.