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D.U.I. Three simple letters, but such a fascinating topic. Merely a misdemeanor, yet such a deep wound it leaves, both on the offender and the victim when involved. From vagrants to politicians, payday loan managers to doctors, firemen to cops…it’s the great equalizer.
And like a legal shark, it has so many rows of teeth when you’re caught in its gullet…with another row having been added just this week.
Would you believe in America that a cop can force blood from your arm? I don’t mean by giving you a stern look and asking very loudly, either. No, by “force,” I mean a group of people taking you to a hospital’s mandated padded psychiatric evaluation room, holding each limb down if necessary, and sticking a needle in your vein while you froth from the lips with drug- or alcohol-induced rage. Crazy, yeah? No refusal, no lawyer present, just a very annoyed nurse and a bunch of excited E.R. 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 wreck. Now though, if you’ve had a prior D.U.I. or vehicular assault (or homicide), ever (not just 10 years back anymore) or there is a passenger under the age of 16—as they used to say, “From your arm or from your lip, we’ll be having your blood.” (Oh, and it’s still not your choice, blood or breath. Wives’ tale.) And despite its misdemeanant status, once you hit Lucky Conviction #4 you graduate to the Felony Big Leagues like murderers and old bid-rigging Chattanooga city contractors.
By now, several of you reading this are getting warm about the face and gripping the paper (or laser mouse) tightly in a mix of anger (which is actually shame) and introspection, having been down the D.U.I. 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 many of us have been guilty of it, and quite simply not everyone gets caught.
With that bit out of the way, you always hear your buddy (let’s 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, and 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 streetlights sufficiently lighting the place? (I know you know, but the customers always argue it.) What you don’t know is that about eight 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”), headlights on or out, 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. 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 would call his home runs, and as I got better I didn’t care if you refused it (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 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 a.m. 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.
The great equalizer. The bringer of death in some cases, but humility to all, is just a few beers or whiskeys 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.