Season’s Greetings to all! As we are in the midst of many important holidays a few reminders about sober driving from a law enforcement point of view.
DWI task force officers are going to be active in Denton County. I absolutely understand that a lot of social drinkers have a hard time “believing” they are drunk. It’s not necessarily about your belief system but more about the science associated with determining whether a person is operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol. A significant number of law enforcement agencies are eschewing the intoxilyzer (an instrument that measures the amount of alcohol contained in your breath…samples obtained traditionally by blowing in to a tube for a certain amount of time). Our agency has a mandatory blood draw policy on drivers believed to be operating a vehicle impaired on alcohol (yes we obtain search warrants prior to blood draws, no we haven’t had any medical personnel refuse to draw the sample, no we haven’t had any motorists resist the obtaining of a sample). Evading an officer’s attempt to obtain a sample of the alcohol concentration in your blood by intentionally failing to follow the intoxilyzer operator’s instructions is becoming a thing of the past.
The following information is courtesy of www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/division/traffic/safety/sober-safe/intoxication.html
About every 20 minutes in Texas, someone is hurt or killed in a crash involving alcohol. We urge you to take responsibility for your actions. Don’t drink and drive.
How Much Is Too Much?
Impairment begins with the first drink. Your gender, body weight, the number of drinks you’ve consumed and the amount of food you’ve eaten affect your body’s ability to handle alcohol. Two or three beers in an hour can make some people legally intoxicated. Women, younger people and smaller people generally become impaired with less alcohol.
Data provided by the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission indicates that a 200 lb. man is likely legally intoxicated after four drinks in one hour. A drink is defined as 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor (40%), 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine. A 140 lb. woman is most likely intoxicated after 3 drinks in one hour. Alcohol does not leave the body as rapidly as it was ingested.
All of this being stated…this reminder isn’t for the hard core drinker who’s going to go out on the streets and create mayhem. We know who you are by your driving history, motor vehicle accidents, and your internet advice site coached behavior on traffic stops. This is for the person who has rarely had contact with law enforcement and might be considering that 4th drink at the office Christmas party. Please consider having a designated driver or choose not to drink and drive. Ride sharing services and taxi cabs are available throughout Dallas Fort Worth and are far cheaper than a defense attorney, court costs, fines, bail bonds, alcohol awareness classes, steering wheel interlock devices, wrecker yard fees, and increased insurance rates. Not to mention the soul crushing guilt that accompanies hurting another person because you chose to drive impaired.
What really happens to the person who decides to overindulge and then wander into the path of an officer? Let’s walk through a typical Driving While Intoxicated arrest.
An officer is on patrol at 1 a.m. and observes a lone motorist struggling to maintain a single lane of traffic, driving slower than the speed limit (yep…you’re not fooling us by driving slower than the speed limit) and then failing to stop their vehicle for several blocks after the officer has signaled for them to pull over (stuffing bottles of booze under the passenger seat, while slowly refusing to stop, usually just results in spilled alcohol). All of the exhibited driving behaviors are clues that a reasonable person might view as indicators of intoxicated driving. In 2017 there is a high probability that the officer has captured the driving behavior on video.
As the officer prepares to exit the patrol car they broadcast their location to dispatch, look for traffic approaching from the rear, aim the vehicle spotlight and takedown lights into the stopped motorist’s passenger compartment and assess if they can safely approach the driver. Generally speaking the driver and any passengers will have an extremely difficult time looking through the wall of light. As the officer approaches the vehicle they will look at driver and passenger behavior and also observe the interior of the vehicle. The officer’s first priority is to ensure that no weapons are being displayed and that the driver is compliant and not preparing to engage in a fight.
Upon greeting the driver most officers operate off of departmental training (there are some variations) and they announce their name, department, the reason for the stop and then request driver’s license and insurance. At this time, based upon a totality of circumstances, the motorist may be asked about alcohol consumption, what restaurant, bar or party they are returning home from or other situationally relevant questions. The officer may have observed that the interior of the vehicle smelled like alcohol upon the window being rolled down. Our officer has observed that the driver has blood shot eyes, slurred and incoherent speech and has an alcohol bottle laying on the passenger seat.
The officer will return to their vehicle, run the motorist for wanted, obtain registration information for any potential citations and request from dispatch a cover officer. Upon arrival of another officer the motorist will be asked to step from their vehicle and ideally to the side of the road, on a flat smooth surface, where they will be requested to participate in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (a surprising number of times a neighbor or a friend will drive by and ask or demand to know what’s going on). The officer will look for horizontal and vertical gaze nystagmus (the involuntary jerking of the eyes beginning at 45% and when held at maximum deviation…this is the classic follow the pen or penlight with your eyes while keeping the head still test). Nystagmus can be an indicator of alcohol intoxication.
If the motorist is still compliant they will be asked to walk heel to toe for nine steps, in a straight line, turn and return to the start point while counting their steps out loud.
The officer will next have the driver perform the one leg stand where the motorist is asked to stand straight, place their arms at their sides and maintain that position while keeping a foot raised six inches off, and parallel to the ground. While holding that position the driver will be asked to count “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two…until told to stop.”
Officers are looking for the driver’s inability to maintain their balance, and follow simple instructions. Officers take note of “clues” such as counting the wrong number of steps, starting the tests to early, or stopping the tests before completion, hopping, swaying or using their arms to balance.
The driver may be asked questions about whether they are operating a motor vehicle? What road are they on? Who owns the car? What was their destination? What is today’s date? When did you last eat? Are you under the influence of alcohol? Do you see a doctor? Do you have a head injury, are you sick…etc.?
The officer, after considering the motorist’s driving behaviors, the smell of alcohol from their person and the vehicle compartment, the empty alcohol bottle on the seat, the driver’s admission that they had been consuming alcohol “…two drinks!..”, the onset of nystagmus at 45%, the inability of the subject to count, maintain their balance, or to follow simple instructions, will then take the motorist taken into custody.
The officer will have the person turn around, place them in handcuffs, pat the arrestee down for weapons, and then secure the defendant in the rear seat of the patrol car. Patrol vehicles are notoriously uncomfortable, cramped, and hot and smell like the last drunks urine and body odor. The arrestee’s field of view will be restricted to a piece of Plexiglas and the side window.
While the driver’s car is being placed on a flatbed wrecker the arrestee will be given a statutory warning by the arresting officer. In brief that statutory warning is notification that the driver is under arrest for the allegation of operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated. The driver will be asked to give a specimen of their breath and / or blood to determine the concentration of alcohol or presence of a controlled substance, drug, dangerous drug or other substance in their body. The driver, ironically being asked to make a very important decision while most likely impaired, will have to decide to consenting or refusing the breath or blood test. If the driver refuses to permit a taking of a sample their license will be suspended for 180 days. The driver can appeal the suspension and request an administrative hearing to have their driving privileges restored.
If the suspected intoxicated motorist is stopped in Denton County there is a very good chance that the officer will apply for a search warrant and obtain a sample of the driver’s blood for analysis. That sample will be sent to a Texas Department of Public Safety laboratory for analysis and that evidence will possibly be used in a future prosecution.
Post having a sample of their breath or blood obtained the arrestee will be transported to a local jail or detention facility. In my experience the rarified atmosphere of your average detention facility contains the interesting mix of cleaning agents, sweat, dirty socks, unwashed bodies and either freezing cold or swamp moist climate control. The intoxicated driver usually finds the detention officers abrupt, controlling and seemingly unconcerned about anything other than getting them into a cell. Once in the cell, or sometimes at the book-in desk, the arrestee gets to place an irrational and emotional collect call to a loved one (rarely an attorney) where they get the opportunity to explain where they are, what happened, and please come get them out of jail!
Once out of jail (usually after the spouse or parent posts bond with the assistance of a helpful bail bond company) the arrestee has the adventure of retrieving their car, finding an attorney, explaining to the boss why they missed a day of work, and quite probably finding rides to work, school and home for the next 180 days.
In my experience (any particular defendant’s may vary) it takes up to two years to see the inside of a courtroom for a Driving While Intoxicated prosecution. The overwhelming majority of cases are not resolved in a trial but in a plea bargain where the defendant agrees to straighten up and fly right, visit with a probation officer every now and then, pay fines and court fees, attend alcohol awareness counseling and to have “x” number of days deferred over “x” number of years (meaning the defendant only spends time in jail if they violate the conditions of their probation).
There is an entire industry devoted to defending people arrested for Driving While Intoxicated. There are awesome billboards, radio ads and websites promoting the services of highly trained attorneys. You can easily spend thousands of dollars fighting a DWI arrest or maybe, just maybe, you can make that decision to spend fifty or one hundred dollars on a cab. You won’t have the interesting story about how the cops bad rapped you into jail…you won’t be able to talk about all the nice people you met during jail intake…you’ll miss out on those jail made baloney sandwiches…but you will have your job, your life and the peace of mind that you didn’t endanger someone else by driving while intoxicated.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve. Stay safe this holiday season!