… And now, the hardest part to write. It’s not like I haven’t revisited it a thousand times, as I’m sure you’ve revisited your story. I rethink all the different scenarios - if I had just done this instead of that, been stopped by the red light instead of catching a green, if I had taken the long route instead of the Highway… Wondering if I had any one of any other tiny decisions throughout the day… then maybe… just maybe… I wouldn’t be writing this, I would have no idea what this experience is like, no lawyer, never have blown into a breathalyzer… Maybe I wouldn’t have this on my record, more money in my pocket and less gray hairs.
But the truth of the matter is, that it did happen. And those other times where I left early, or stayed too long, cut through the neighborhood instead of taking main streets, those just might have been other times that I avoided a DUI. Maybe not. I’ll never know. You never reach home and know, “Yeah, tonight I slipped one by the cops, what suckers!”. I may have just slipped by the cops a few times, or this experience might have been the first time I found myself in the crosshairs. No way to know.
I can imagine things playing out a thousand different ways, all in my favor, of course, but I’d never have learned a damn thing. Maybe if a cop let me off (which is highly unlikely), otherwise, I’d have felt that it was just another night, and that I was ok to drive when I wasn’t.That day
It’d been a busy day at work, meetings that I had to go, endless emails, requests, orders, it was rough. Too many times I had to drop everything to help somebody else, on something they should have done on their own a week ago, but… this isn’t about complaining about work.
Let’s just say, I was ready to blow off some steam.
A friend of mine was having his going away party across town - a startup in the Bay had poached him away with a very attractive offer, and it was going to be a better fit for him in both work and life, so I was happy for him… I was ready to celebrate with him. Stopped by home, dropped off my stuff, got ready, and ate a quick, small meal… I had recently re-entered the dating pool and needed to shed a few pounds, so I was trying to monitor what I eat. Unfortunately the early meeting had donuts, and lunch had to be eaten quickly… and I planned on consuming some beer calories, so, dinner needed to be small and slight. Not smart
A friend of mine even offered me a ride that night - something that rarely happens - looking back, I have to wonder - was it a sign
? Either way, again, there’s no way to know what will happen later. The ride would’ve taken me to another event and had me get there late so I declined, I’ll be fine, I thought.
My friend was living in a hip area of Los Angeles, far from my… cheap area of Los Angeles. Driving there would some time, and cover a decent distance… so the thought taking an Uber never entered my head, it would’ve been expensive!
Would’ve been so cheap in retrospect.
So I drove off on my own.That Night
I went out… and I won’t lie… It was a fun night. The bar had a beer-and-shot special, so why not? I’m supporting my friend! I’m having fun! I’m escaping the work day! I’m embracing the weekend!
Things die down and I decide to take off, I hadn’t slept that much that week, so I was tired, so I get ready to start saying my goodbyes, but then-
The second wave of people hit. People I hadn’t seen in a while, and I felt bad about it.
Alright. I’ll stay.
Another round. Everyone does a shot for our soon-to-be-departed friend! What a great night.
Alright. Time to go. For real. Goodbye. See you later. Hey, hit me about that thing, I’ve got some thoughts about how to get that working faster. Good to see you. Goodbye. Goodbye. Hey, let’s grab a drink next week to discuss that project, I think I know someone we can bring in to streamline things. Bye. See ya. Take care. So long. Let’s hang soon, etc. etc. etc.
“Hey man, you good to drive?”
Me? Yeah. I’m fine. I feel good, but I’m alright. I’m not that drunk or anything.
So stupid.The Drive Home.
I take off. Get back to my car. Sit there, return some texts - feel a little buzzed, but, I’m fine. Of course I’m fine. Take off and navigate with my phone how to get back, hit the highway, and I’m good. Let’s play some music.
Once I’m on the highway, I’m good, I cruise through it. I recall it being oddly empty for a Friday night. Oh well. Gotta get home.
I drive, and for the most part, I’m fine. At least I believe I was.
Getting off the Highway, I see a car ahead of me that has slowed waaaaayyyyyy down, more than usual. They might have been drunk, they might have been lost, who knows. But I jam on the brakes, slow down myself, but they’re getting closer, so I drift over to the side so I can avoid him if he’s fully stopped. He keeps on, figures out which way he’s going, he’s fine.
But a cop saw me drift over the line. He’d just rolled up on me. Red and Blue Lights
Panic starts to set in a little bit. My first thought: Was I going too fast on the highway? If you’ve been drinking and your first thought is worrying that you might have been going too fast… you drank too much.
I pull over. License and Registration. Everything checks out.
Cop starts talking to me, asking about the car ahead of me, no, I don’t know them, wasn’t sure what they were doing.
Then came the question we all fear.
“Sir, have you been drinking tonight?”
It’s a tough position to be in- you don’t want to outright lie to a cop, that can easily go poorly - in certain cases it can lead to an Obstruction of Justice charge (although, it would really be hard to get things to that point, but it’s possible). Most likely if you lie they’ll treat you worse when they have evidence against what you said.
So, like I did, most likely you’ll say something to tune of “Oh, I had one or two”. Meanwhile they can smell the alcohol on you and hear the slur in your speech. For some reason a popular answer is “Oh, I had a sip or two”… which isn’t even a plausible answer. Not even a sip from a long island iced tea or from straight vodka is going to affect you severely enough to get you pulled over, to make your car and breath smell of booze. Probably not even everclear or other superbooze.
You can refuse to answer under your Fifth Amendment privileges, but the cop is most likely going to see you as being difficult, which is the last thing that he wants. It sucks, it’s in violation of the spirit of the Amendment, but, that’s just how it goes.
Basically, there is no good answer to the question. That’s why they ask it
Also - good thing to remember - you can’t tell when you’re slurring. (That’s why you’ve always answered “No, I’m not” when somebody’s told you that you’re doing it.)
Throughout the process the cop put on an attitude that I can only describe as “phony friendly”. A common tactic that non-hardass cops pull is to act like they’re just a friend checking up on you. Just answer these questions, do these tests, just blow in this thing real quick, and we’ll get you on your way. That’s their line, “we’ll get you on your way”. It’s remarkably effective - it puts you in a positive mindset, you think you’re going to be able to beat it, then get home in time to eat the taco bell that’s sitting in your passenger seat before bedtime.
In this instance, the police officer is not your friend. They may act all chummy, but they are looking to see you fail the tests, and take your ass to jail.
The cop then leads me to the sidewalk, and we began “The Drunk Olympics
” or, as they’re officially called, the Field Sobriety Test.
It’s about this point when the seriousness of the situation really sank in for me. The officer had me follow his pen light with my eyes. I got this. Easy. I do it - no problems.
Not what they’re looking for. Well, if you can’t follow it all then you’re most likely completely plastered and there wasn’t any hope of you getting out of this and you really shouldn’t have been driving. Instead, they’re looking for what’s called nystagmus
of your eye - it’s an involuntary shaking of the eye that usually happens when you’re looking all the way to one side. If it occurs earlier, the cop has a pretty good indication that you’re above the legal limit. There’s nothing you can do to “practice” or “try harder” or “focus” to get it to not happen. There’s nothing
you can do. There’s other reasons why this can happen, which I’m sure you’ve looked up and diagnosed yourself with several, but it’s an extreme longshot to get it thrown out.
Next came the most famous ones - touching your fingers to your noise. Pretty easy, I think I did fine. Who knows. Then came walking a straight line heel to toe. Not going to lie - this is one that’s hard to do sober. Especially on the cracked up sidewalk they had me do it on. They’re supposed to make a reasonable attempt at finding flat ground to make it fair, but reasonable is doing it on regular broken up sidewalk, when part of the sidewalk that’s been broken up by a tree root is near by.
I started thinking in my head, “Just concentrate, we’re going to do a great job, and impress the officer, and he’s going to let me go.” Fucking stupid. “I’ll do more than what he asked to show him I’m A-OK”. Don’t do anything but exactly what they tell you to
. They’re giving you a lot of instructions to overwhelm your drunk brain, and waiting for you to screw up any one of them… which is exactly what happened when I lost my balance and tapped my foot against the ground to regain it.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
This is when it hit me, they’re going to get me for this.
I should point out - they call it the Field Sobriety Test - but it’s really a misnomer. It’s not a test in that you can pass it if you perform above a certain standard. It’s all up to the cop. If he feels you did great, he can let you go. If he feels you did great, he can still say that you failed the test, breathalyze you and take you in. It’s all up to the cop’s judgement and you can bet he’s not on your side.
When you’re pulled over, in most circumstances, you will be recorded. Remember this: you are on video
. Some people want to challenge their Field Sobriety Test in court (if they get that far) or think they can use it as a plea bargaining chip, hoping for a smaller sentencing. However, most police officers will stop directly behind your car and perform your tests juuuuuuuuust out of the range of the camera to one side. That way there’s only one version of events - theirs
The police then handcuffed me “for my safety” (yeah, right) and started explaining how to blow into the breathalyzer. When the handcuffs went on… everything just went away. Not because of the drunkenness. Just because of how serious handcuffs make the situation. It’s an awful feeling both physically and mentally. Your stomach just sinks, the blood drains from your face, and a deep despair sets in. I got embarrassed, thinking about the cars driving by, imagining them saying “oh look at that drunk, glad they caught him” and such. It really hit me, they were going to take me in.
Once you’ve failed the field sobriety test - which, again, you most likely will, the police now have probably cause to give you the breathalyzer. For some reason, they need to do them just to get to the point. I’d have rather they just gave it to me and skipped the show of it, but some people have gotten off because they didn’t perform the tests. Lucky dogs.
They present me the breathalyzer and make a big show about opening up the plastic baggie to give me a fresh mouthpiece. I’m guessing there was a lawsuit or fear of it somewhere back in the day, they really make it clear that you’re not going to get a cold from it - which is the least of your problems at this point.
One of the things that lead me to getting my DUI was this was the first time I had ever blown into a breathalyzer. What is .08? They have a chart that comes with your driver’s license, but who remembers that. What does .08 feel like? I didn’t know. I thought I was under.
I was wrong.
I blew on the breathalyzer thinking that this would clear me, and the cop would admonish me for being .06 or .07 and I’d go about my way. I blew into it, and wasn’t even able to finish the test. The breathalyzer takes a surprising
amount of breath. You have to take a deep breath and sustain a steady blow for quite some time. I got it the second time. Lucky me.
The officer took a look at it and told me that I was going to be taking a ride with them. They took off my glasses and put them in my car, made sure I had my keys with me, and put me in the back of their car. From there I was able to watch the tow truck come and pick up my car.
The Ride Downtown
Here’s one of the few places where you have a choice in this whole matter - when they put you under arrest you have a choice - you can go downtown to blow into a different
breathalyzer, you can go to a hospital and have your blood drawn, or you can refuse. Refusal is a really complicated subject, and I’ll get into it later.
The most popular option is to blow into the breathalyzer at the station. Why do they have you blow into the second one? The answer is weird - the first one doesn’t count. The portable breathalyzers the police carry are prone to error, seldomly have solid schedule for their calibration, and, above everything else, are not court admissible. It will be mentioned in your police reports, and can be used for probable cause, but it’s not actual evidence against you.
This is part of why the cops don’t tell you what you blew on that one. Also to make you think that you were just over, and blowing on the official one or taking the blood test might clear you. Spoiler alert: They most likely won’t.
That was my thinking. We went to the station where they sat me down next to the official breathalyzer, which is constructed like IBM built in in the 50s - large, and an all-in-one unit. It’ll test you and print out a record of your failure all by itself.
This machine takes even more
breath than the portable. You feel like you’re tapping out the bottom of your lungs at the end of a breath on it. You’re pushing and pushing to get through it. And at that point, everything has sunk in, you just want to be through it.
After blowing on it, the cop got the results and looked at them - again, I wasn’t told what the results were, so I have no idea what neighborhood my BAC was. I started to get really worried.
When you blow on the official breathalyzer you have to blow on it twice - fifteen minutes apart. Part of this is so that they can get a reliable idea of what your BAC is, part of it is so they can get your BAC at its highest. Most people leave the place they were drinking right after finishing a drink, so with the drive home, the arrest, going downtown, your BAC should be peaking right about then. So your official BAC won’t be the BAC you were driving with. (Some lawyers have used this to defeat cases, but don’t count on it) They’ll take the two blows, record them, and you’ll be charged with the higher one - if the blows are outside of a certain “acceptable” range the test will be invalidated - but you’ll just have to blow two more times until they get the test “right”.
The fifteen minutes between blowing was one of the longest fifteen minutes of my life. It felt like an hour. The cops started asking me questions, filling out paperwork, and the sense of impending doom filled the room for me. I started to panic, I started hyperventilating - partially because I was nervous and worried about what was going to happen to me, partially because I was grasping at things I can do to lower my BAC. Breathing more oxygen in will clear my lungs and burn off alcohol, right?
I blew again, and that was it. They told me that I’d blown a .15 - way higher than I had even imagined it would have been. My heart truly sank at this point. I was fucked. I tried to throw out everything I had heard might help my defense, I told the cop that I had acid reflux, that I’d also had pizza with onions, but it all fell on deaf ears. It didn’t matter.
I was busted.
I was finger printed, the cop held onto my drivers license for me, I was asked what felt like a thousand questions, paperwork was filled out. The cop kept the same phony friendly routine throughout - telling me all this was just routine, and that the prosecutor “might not even pursue the case, you never know”. Yeah, right.
This process had stretched on for some time, and I was finally given a bathroom break. Peeing while handcuffed and with ink that wouldn’t wash off, but would come off on anything else that I touched was certainly a new one.
Here’s where I was cut a break. Instead of throwing me in the drunk tank or jail for a few hours, the cop took my phone and called my roommate, and allowed me to be released to him as long as he had nothing to drink that night, which fortunately he hadn’t (or at least was convincing liar). Maybe the cop took pity on me, maybe the jail was full, or the facility didn’t have one. I have no idea why it went down like that. It being the weekend he could have technically held me until Monday morning. Wouldn’t have done anybody any good, but that was an option for him.
When my roommate came I couldn’t even look him in the eyes. I felt like garbage. I could barely speak. Fortunately he was very understanding about the whole thing. Still, there wasn’t any consoling me, I had hit rock bottom. I felt like complete scum.
When we got home, I went and read through all the new paperwork I had before crying myself to sleep.