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.