“Don’t Drink and Drive”, doesn’t make sense to me. You drove to the bar, right? You parked in the lot, which they provided, and you have to get home when you’re done drinking right? Are you having a glass of milk at the bar? Unlikely. Is the bar parking lot an overnight storage for patron’s vehicles then? “Don’t Drive Drunk,” makes more sense. The problem, I guess, is the decision as to whether you’re driving under the legal limit or not is made by the person who is putting the key in the ignition that is possibly unable to determine that at the time.
I have been arrested for DUI, like I said. I was even, technically, charged with DUI, and you won’t find any record of it at all. Let’s just say, I’ve only been “caught” once. It was not fun. Here’s how it happened.
We had just moved to Tucson, Arizona from Albuquerque, New Mexico and had been invited over to a new acquaintance’s house to play some pool. Beer was provided. I think I had three, at the most four, beers during the course of a several hours visit. The company turned out to be enjoyable and we left, my wife, daughter and I, at about 10:30 pm. All three of us in the front seat of the Brown Ford Ranger.
I pulled into the intersection, for whatever reason, expecting the left turn arrow, which was currently red, to turn green after the oncoming traffic light turned red. That’s how I remembered it happening in New Mexico. The oncoming traffic came to a stop as the light changed. It was then that I realized the left turn signal had already been green before I got there, and here I was in the middle of the intersection with a left blinker on. I was approximately three blocks from my house. I’m halfway out in the intersection now and I have no choice but to turn on the red arrow or get T-boned by the oncoming cross traffic. I can’t back up as other cars have formed a line behind me. This is as 8-lane intersection. So I go. As I turn left on a red arrow, driving “under the influence”, with an open container graciously supplied by my host for the ride home, I spot one of Tucson’s “finest” in the inside lane of the opposing intersection. Within minutes of safely clearing the intersection, he is behind me.
I panic. Cops make me panic. I could be doing absolutely nothing wrong and a cop behind me will start me hyperventilating. I immediately try to “hide” the open container. I know that won’t be good. I set it behind the seat with my left hand and make a right turn onto my street. I’m now FOUR houses down the street from home. The colorful lights come on and the siren wails. I pull over. I can see my house out of the windshield.
The officer approaches as I roll down my window.
Officer: “Good evening sir.” Cops always mess with you like that. Your evening is no longer good once you’ve been stopped.
Officer: “Do you know why I stopped you?”
Me: “I turned left on a red arrow.” Then I try to calmly explain how I’ve just moved from New Mexico and the sequence is different there, I was waiting for the green arrow, and I had no choice, I couldn’t back up, and you can turn left on green in New Mexico without the arrow, and…” he’s not buying any of it.
Officer: “Have you been drinking this evening, sir?”
I have since learned the correct answer to this question is not “Yes.” The answer, even if you can’t form words that don’t sound like slurs, is “NO.” You do not tell the truth, period. Any defense attorney will tell you that. But I did.
Me: “Well, I had a couple of beers at a friend’s house.” This truthful statement results in immediate action.
Officer: “Sir, step out of the car.”
Me: “What’d I do?”
My daughter, who is ten, starts to cry. They’re taking her dad away and she’s not happy about it. On the other hand, the cop seems to be clearly enjoying it all. I step out of the car and he walks me all the way to the back of the squad car. I go through the routine, arms outstretched, touch the nose, stand on one foot and then the other, walk a straight line. Tests I appear to pass without a problem. The coup de grâce is when he tells me to take six steps, start on my left foot and end on the same foot. It is then that I realize he has a “ride-along.”
A ride-along is a civilian who is doing just that, at his request. Anybody can do it. Just call the Police Department and set it up. The cop, is clearly showing off because of it, probably due to the lack of crime that evening, to show his ride along how a professional police officer does his job. I start counting out my six steps starting with the left foot and ending on the right, the wrong foot, and I can’t seem to understand why. (You’re supposed to know before taking the first step, if you’re not impaired, that you can’t take an even number of steps and end up on the same foot as you start with. I’m going to argue that if I was sober and a cop told me to do that, I would have had the exact same reaction.) The officer shines the flashlight in my face.
Officer: “Sir, I feel that you are impaired, and I am going to take you down to the station. Can someone drive your vehicle home?” I can see my house from the sidewalk where I’m standing.
Me: “They can walk home. My house is right there,” and I point.
Officer: “Fine. Get in the car.” He didn’t hold the top of my head as I sat down in the car like you see on all those cop shows on TV. I just climbed into the car as he stood with his hands hooked on his gunbelt.
Now the back seat of police cars, intentionally I find out, has no room for the legs of a six-foot individual, now the person in custody. My daughter, whom I can see through the windshield, is crying hysterically, and the cop is talking to my wife. I found out later what that conversation was about. The officer of the law with his ride along beside him was trying to find some damning evidence. Like the open container of beer stashed behind the seat. My wife wouldn’t let him search the vehicle when he requested it. Unless he has reasonable cause he can’t do it without permission or the evidence can be thrown out.
The ride to the substation was uneventful. I watched my house recede into the distance as we passed it, and I flipped-off the ride-along who thought it was polite to stare at a guy with his knees under his chin. I still have no idea where the substation was, I was “impaired” at the time, I guess, but more likely I was consumed by fear and wasn’t paying attention to where we were going. I did discover that being thrown into the back seat of a police cruiser sobers you up pretty fast though. I was approaching full on hysteria.
I wasn’t booked into custody with the fingerprinting and the mug shots. I was just told to take off my boots (it was during my “cowboy” period) and they put me in a concrete holding cell. The only thing that wasn’t concrete was the toilet in the back corner. That was steel, but not stainless. I vowed to stay away from that completely even though I needed to use it. I sat down on the concrete bench. I waited. I freaked. I was alone and I could hear nothing.
Some time passed. I was sitting there contemplating my circumstances, when the officer and his ride along showed up at the cell door, opened it and led me into a hallway. They went through the balancing and dexterity tests again, which are harder to do, by the way, in your stocking feet on a slick tile floor, but I still felt that I had “passed” them. I was then led to a room that looked a lot like a break room with a conference table, and told to sit down. The officer and the ride along sat across from me.
Officer: “Count from 1 -50 backwards.” Pen poised over a clipboard.
Me: “50-49-48-47-46-45-44….” This was easy. He stopped me at 35.
Officer: “Recite the alphabet.”
Was I in kindergarten? Was that how they treated “impaired” drivers, drivers operating “under the influence”? I start. “A, B, C, D”
Officer: “No, backwards.”
Me: “Shit, I don’t think I can do that sober!” Dumb thing to say, I know, just trying to lighten things up. I try, and I do pretty well I think. I have to pause every once in awhile to figure it out, and he stops me on “h”.
Officer: “What color pants are you wearing? Tell me without looking.”
Me: (Staring at the officer.) “Stonewashed, black, Levi 501s, button fly.” Garth Brook’s favorite jeans, I think, but don’t say.
The officer does not seem impressed.
Officer: “Okay,” he says. “Step over here to the breathalyzer.” After setting it up, he hands me a straw-like thing and tells me to blow. I do. A receipt comes out the side. He looks at it. Puts it down.
Officer: “Do it again.”
I do. The receipt pops out; he looks at it and puts it down. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to give him two out of three.
After an uncomfortable pause, me standing there in my stocking feet, rocking from side to side and back and forth and wanting to sit down, “You didn’t test over the legal limit”, he says and he truly sounds disappointed. (At the time, the legal limit in Arizona was .10, it’s .08 now, as it is in all states.) “You tested .093.” He shows me the “receipt.” I never see the other one, so I figure it must be lower. “So I have the option of charging you with Driving Under the Influence or not. I’m going to charge you. I also have the option of suspending your driver’s license.”
“What the hell did I do to make him so mad,” I’m thinking. Then I realize that he has to make an arrest because he brought me back to the substation alleging I was DUI, wasted two hours trying to impress a ride along with his tests, and now he had to make it into a legitimate stop and arrest. After all, remember, all I did was turn left on a red arrow as the light was changing, and admit that I’d had a couple of beers that evening. I should have received a citation for running a red light. If he hadn’t left me in the cell for as long as he did he probably would have gotten that extra .007. I have been in custody, I note, for almost two and a half hours. It is 1:30 a.m. on the wall clock in the “test” room.
He hands me back my driver’s license. I guess he decides he’s punishing me enough.
The real truth is DUI can be prosecuted in Arizona (and most other states) either by showing that your driving ability was impaired only to the slightest degree as a result of the consumption of alcohol (or those other “influences”) or the “per se” law, which says you can’t drive a vehicle within two hours of having a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater. How they know what your blood alcohol level is two hours prior, I don’t know. You should know, that violating a per se law has absolutely nothing to with your ability to operate a vehicle safely, it’s all about blood chemistry. The only question becomes how high the blood alcohol level was at the time of driving. Since, as I pointed out, the breath or blood alcohol test is always given after the time of driving, it could be the same, higher, or lower than it was several hours ago when I was driving. Wow, the “Don’t Drink and Drive” signs are making a lot more sense now. Take the bus to the bar.
The officer asks me to sign his citation and I do, which of course is not admitting guilt, only agreeing to appear, he explains. I have the right to a jury trial, or I have the choice to waive a jury trial and have a judge hear the case, he explains further. The arraignment is set two months away, and I’m able to drive until then because he has chosen not to suspend my license.
“Do you have a way to get home?” he asks. I’m taken aback by the complete opposite tone in his voice. He’s being nice. Why?
“Well, I don’t know where I am, for one,” I say, and I don’t have a car, obviously.”
“We’ll take you home,” he says. “I have to get back on patrol in that area anyway.” So I get out of jail free, and I get a ride home.
There is absolutely no conversation on the way home. It takes about twenty minutes and he drives right up to my house without me giving him any direction whatever. That makes me a little uneasy, but I figure it out quickly. I thank him for the lift and at 2:30 AM my arrest ordeal is over.
Coming soon – “Have You Been Drinking This Evening, Sir – The Trial.”