Sober = Drunk in Washington, DC

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9 Responses

  1. KipEsquire says:

    The problem I have with your analysis is the “clearly not intoxicated” part. She drank and drove — that is not in dispute. She was driving recklessly (i.e., headlights off at 12:30am) — that is not in dispute.

    Exceeding the BAC is a sufficient condition, not a necessary condition, for intoxication. Stated differently, having a BAC below the theshold should not be treated as a safe harbor from a DUI arrest.

    There is no right to “just two beers” or “just one glass.”

  2. Paul Gowder says:

    Kip: but was she in fact intoxicated? I’ve driven with my headlights off (i.e. forgetting to turn them back on after getting gas) on days when I haven’t consumed alcohol for a week. This sounds like a bite of pear flambe would be sufficient to arrest.

    How do you prove intoxication without the defendant having a BAC above the threshold? Reliably?

  3. KipEsquire,

    I certainly agree that it would be fine to charge her with driving recklessly. My concern is with charging her with DUI when it doesn’t appear that she really was driving under the influence. While I agree that “having a BAC below the threshold should not be treated as a safe harbor from a DUI arrest,” the DC approach strikes me as opening the door to a kind of wrongful arresting and charging of people with a serious offense that they are not guilty of because they know most won’t fight the charge.

    Of course, there are rare cases where people with BAC’s below .08 could be too intoxicated to drive, but I’m reluctant to leave too much to the cop’s discretion.

    There are more facts about the case in the article which I didn’t include, but they seem to indicate that the cop didn’t like the woman’s attitude, and that’s why all this happened. Of course, these are based on her allegations, but there’s evidence that the cop didn’t give normal sobriety tests as well as evidence that a .03 BAC really is too low to cause impairment.

    I’m generally not a bright-line rules kind of person, often arguing in favor of muddier standards, but this time, I do think that brighter-line rules might be better.

  4. Ugh says:

    This is ridiculous. The drunk driving laws in this country have basically done away with due process.

  5. UPDATE: The Washington Post has an follow-up article today about the DUI arrest policy. From the article:

    Officials with organizations that lobby for safe roads and tough drunken driving laws yesterday criticized the District’s zero-tolerance policy toward drinking and driving, saying that they’d never heard of it and that limited police resources should be devoted to those more obviously drunk.

    Even D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who has sponsored legislation to lower the legal limit for drunken driving, said she was not aware that police officers are arresting drivers who have as little as .01 percent blood alcohol content — less than from drinking a glass of wine or beer — in their systems. Nor did she think that such a policy was a good idea.

  6. Dave! says:

    “Driving Recklessly” is in dispute (unless headlights out is part of a reckless driving statute, it may be, but I suspect it’s just a warning in most places.) If you live in a major metro area, it is *very* conceivable that you would never notice that your lights were out… even at 12:30am, due to the light pollution of a city. My lights make *no* difference on most streets in my city, 24 hours a day…

    …and I’m a very large man. I could drink a glass of wine and probably not register on a blood test. There isn’t a right to a “I just had two beers” excuse, but there’s also a difference between consuming a drink and not being impaired and consuming many drinks. The .1 limit is probably not designed to keep the roads safer (as evidenced by the “Diversion Program”) it’s probably designed to generate revenue from people who opt to pay the fine over being labeled “DUI”.

  7. Randy Hurst says:

    This is an issue I’ve been concerned about for some years. The issue is supposed to be driving while impaired, because impairment puts others at risk. But the standard has nothing to do with impairment, it has to do with drinking. There are tests that can check if you can operate, react, and observe – i.e., if you are mentally or physically impaired – but nobody uses them. In fact, as this story proves, the police don’t care whether you’re impaired or not. The law is quite literally nothing more than an excuse to fine people for doing absolutely nothing wrong. Same thing goes for random drug testing of department store employees, truck drivers, and others. It’s the authoritarian personality at work. Enforcement for enforcement’s sake alone.

  8. eh says:

    And don’t forget that in Virginia if you have a beer in a bar you can be thrown in jail for public intoxication.

    “According to Virginia statutes and the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), any place with a liquor license is considered a “public place.” Accordingly, police are allowed free access to such places, and, should they find any customer over the legal alcohol limit of .08 or suspect a customer of being intoxicated while still being served or present in an establishment, police can write that person a ticket for public intoxication”

    I wonder if the Maryland bars will see a business boom?

  9. Update on Sober = Drunk in Washington DC

    Earlier this week, I wrote a post on how people can be arrested for DUI even when they have a BAC well below the legal limit of .08. The Washington Post article I blogged about sparked a considerably public outcry,…