07/ 26 / 21
I saw Branden post his story on Reddit's DUI board (there's also a SAD Reddit) and encouraged him to share his story in the hopes that it can help others out there. If you'd like to share your story, please contact me. There's a lot of people who are going through what you have, and a lot of people who have already gone through it and come out the other side. Together we can make this better for all of us - Tom
I received DUIs in November of 2014, January of 2016, September of 2017, and March of 2020 and this is my experience.
For the first, I went out with friends from my job, Uber-ed to my truck which was left at work, napped for a while in the truck, ate some food from a drive though at taco bell, and rolled through a stop sign while proceeding home. An officer was there in the dark, lights off. I spent the night in jail and lost that job opening a craft burger restaurant in a high traffic area in Orange County, California. Anyone with a first DUI knows it can be just a slap on the wrist. By one estimate, 1 in 5 California residents have a DUI and me being a young twenty-something year old kid didn’t think too much about it.
For the second, I went on a snowboarding trip to Big Bear with some friends, drank heavily the last night, and in the morning, I drove a friend’s car home. I was caught speeding down the mountain and because I had a prior, was breathalyzed. I did 30 days of SCRAM/house arrest.
The third happened at a DUI checkpoint. I had been at a friend’s birthday party with my girlfriend at the time. She had too much to drink and I wanted to leave early to get some rest for the following workday. I had been doing investment allocations for an aerospace company and I worked another restaurant job on weekends. I had a drink at this party, but when I took the turn and discovered the checkpoint, I knew it was over. I spend 30 days in Orange County jail.
For the fourth, COVID had struck. At this point, I was on the verge of becoming a heavy drinker. I relied on alcohol in social settings, going out and partying with friends, but this started spilling over to drinking sometimes in isolation. I was studying while drinking some wine before I decided to grab something to eat. I was lucky enough to get away with only the night in jail before checking myself into a treatment facility for 60 days and pleading into DUI court.
Before the fourth, I never thought I had an issue with alcohol. I simply thought I made some very idiotic decisions. My drinking typically involved only social situations, but I would party hard and often, slowly losing any control. The fourth was a wakeup call. My weekends of partying have now come to an end, and I haven't had a drink in nearly 500 days since.
Overall, people tell me I'm lucky. I can continue on to finish my business degree at a local university, I have a lot of freedoms, I'm not locked up, and most importantly I never hurt myself or anyone else. People would be right by saying all of this; however, it's so difficult to be optimistic or confident about anything sometimes.
Sometimes I'm overwhelmed with the label society has given me. I think about obtaining this degree and being un-hirable. I think about this rigorous DUI court program and formal probation and what all that entails: 10pm curfew, no traveling outside state lines, no traveling outside the county without the POs ok to do so, weekly therapy with a court appointed counselor, weekly group therapy, several 12-step meetings per week (I'm really not a fan of AA but that's what everyone pushes), bi-weekly 3-6 hour court appearances, several random urinalysis tests per week, random home searches, etc. and I don't know how I'll be able to begin a career with it all, have any meaningful relationships or have what I consider to be a normal life. It's depressing.
People have said I deserve it. People have said I deserve much worse. And sometimes I agree. I realize what I’ve done is absolute insanity, it’s unethical, it’s dangerous and careless, and I agree. And I’m learning… I’m changing, I’m growing, I’m remorseful not because I was caught, but because I understand that my actions could have killed someone. Someone who has a life just like mine.
Some days are easier than others, but more often than not, I struggle to find hope. I tend to get really down on myself and as a result, my confidence and self-worth are all but gone. I feel like a shell of the happy, energetic, fun-to-be-around person I once was.
I've lurked a lot of comments and posts on internet forums, and I've seen some similar sentiment. For those going through similar bouts of depression, maybe you'll find some comfort in knowing you're not alone. This is the most difficult and challenging thing I've ever experienced and it's so hard to carry on at times.
I think I felt the need to have my story heard as a therapeutic rant/journal to make that point known to others as well as myself: you are not alone. This is hard. I think it gets better, I hope it gets better, it has to.
I've been spending my days now studying mostly. I received a 4.0 at my university last semester, I try to hit the gym 5 days a week, I read, I surf, I have a separate therapist I confide more in (and man, after writing this I think I need a session), I'm started dating someone who's been a good friend the past couple years and is extremely supportive of my path of continued self-betterment. I'm trying and I'm trying really hard and sometimes it's still overwhelming. Sometimes I still break down. Sometimes I still feel completely hopeless. And sometimes it's not so bad, and it's those times that keep me going because if it's not so bad sometimes, then maybe there is a possibility life can get even better. I just have to hang on to some hope, live one day at a time, and note the good things I have in the present moment.
09/ 16 / 20
Got a reader submission from John who wanted to talk about the psychological impact of all this - Tom
Psychological Impact of a DUI Charge
A DUI charge can lead to dire legal consequences, but that is not the only concern at the time of arrest. The DUI testing, police questions, license confiscation, and the overall incriminating circumstances can be overwhelming. The situation is most troublesome for young drivers who are first time offenders. They experience a paradox of emotions because there is so much to lose. They crave for a support system, as they do not know how to deal with a criminal allegation. Some offenders make the mistake of misbehaving with the police officers, which further worsens the conditions. It is natural for a person to go through a range of emotional phases while dealing with a DUI charge
Shock and Denial
Being pulled over by the traffic police is typically an unpleasant surprise. On the top of that, getting handcuffed by a stern officer and being dragged to the police station is nothing less than horrifying. The proceedings seem like a nightmare and you hope to wake up any second. You tell yourself that you did not do anything wrong and want to run free, but find yourself restrained. You are not ready to take responsibility of your actions and face the consequences. You believe that denial will enable you to get past this.
Fear and Fury
Anger gets the best of you when the police treats you like a criminal and disrupts your plans. You clearly never intended to land in jail, thereby you curse your luck. You may yell or hit something in the heat of your desperation and frustration. At the same time, you are also frightened of what is yet to come. You are scared of having to spend the night in jail and no one coming to your rescue. If a family member sees you like this, how will you explain?
Remorse and Embarrassment
When you realize that you were wrong and cannot undo what has happened, the guilt begins to set in. You regret every action that led you to that moment. You wish you never had a drink or got behind the wheel, but it’s too late. You wonder what your family and peers will have to say once they find out about your criminal offense. You dread the fact that your mug shot shall become public and everyone you know will see it. You cannot stop thinking about the implications of a criminal record on your job or education.
Despair and Anxiety
When everything is out in the open and you are left helpless, despair takes over. You are sad that you let others down and risked your own future. You become a patient of depression after receiving rejection from the society and losing several privileges you had earlier. You want to go back in time, but things will never be the same. You pledge to never drink or drive again because you cannot bear reliving the recent events.
Time heals wounds, thus you gradually become calm and complacent. You are adhered to the altered lifestyle, so it doesn’t bother you anymore. As you make peace with reality, everything starts shifting back to normal. You can never forget the incident, but you learn to live with it.
You start putting your life back together and strive to make things right. You try to invoke optimism and step forward. You hope to earn back the trust of people who matter the most, and not repeat your mistakes. Author Bio
John Adams writes about physiological traumas and personal healing. He encourages readers to fight their fears and overcome the obstacles holding them back. He believes that any person can improve the quality of his or her life by incorporating positivity in every thought and action. He loves to share his insight on life experiences, and contributes on various online platform in the same niche.
06/ 26 / 20
Tom here… Just wanted to drop a quick note - I'm starting a newsletter to help people keep updated with the site, new posts, and new DUI laws as they happen. Free to subscribe, unsubscribe anytime, and I'll have the "community" features enabled so you can talk with other people and help commiserate and share experiences (there's already a discussion thread for you to post in).
No pressure to sign up, I just wanted to offer another resource for all of us to get through this together.
06/ 17 / 20
Hey there… It's me. Not a guest post this time. I know updates have been few and far between, but once you get your driving rights back, do your classes, pay your fines… Life is pretty much normal. (Kind of what you wanted to hear, huh?)
So you want to know if you're ok to drive, or if your ignition interlock device (IID) will let you start your car. But you don't want to buy a BacTrack breathalyzer
or anything like that. What do you do?
Well… You have a few options.
The first is the easiest - wait it out. 12 hours after your last drink and you should be able to go… in most cases. If you really tied one on, make it 14 hours. You should definitely be clear after 18, probably. 24 to be safe.
A few bars have breathalyzers in them. Hope that they have a mouthpiece available or let you use a clean straw (the one in your drink is going to be tainted from alcohol) and pay a buck or two and see what the results are.
You can always borrow a friend's… although most people don't have them, or carry them with them.
So what else can you do? How about picking up some cheap, portable, disposable breath tests
? They cost about two bucks each, especially if you buy them in bulk. Put them in your jacket pocket and nobody will know. They look like little vials that are sealed up in plastic (if you're doing other things that come in vials, don't bother, these don't test for that).
Have fun, do whatever, preferably don't drive.
When it's time to take the test, take a break from everyone, go to the bathroom, go outside, whatever… get out your test, it'll look like this…
Pull it out of the sealed plastic - wait until you're ready to take the test to avoid contamination.
Then you're going to squeeze really hard in the middle, with the yellow crystals - there's a glass capsule in there, and you've got to break it. It's pretty sturdy! Squeeze hard, the thick plastic will keep you safe from anything of the glass getting into your fingers.
Then follow the arrows and blow into that side of the tube for 12 seconds. Blow hard.
Your breath will fog up the chamber in the middle, but that's fine. The test will say its tolerance. If it your breath stays under (In this case .02) then the crystals will be yellow. Above, and the crystals will turn a different color.
Here's two that I took - the top is a passed test - my BAC was under .02 (It was 0) and at the bottom, was one after I had a drink and was above .02
Easy to use. Easy to read.
But how much use are they?
Well, if you're planning to go out drinking and drive your car home (Which if you're reading this you should never do because the consequences suck and you're probably here because you had a DUI and you're on probation) you can blow and take the test and see that you're above the threshold of the test. But you don't know how much above. You don't know if you're .3 or .03. If you wanted to track your BAC you'd have to take your bulk supply of test and test yourself every 15-30 minutes till eventually you "pass".
These are mostly used for "zero tolerance" environments. Drug offenders who get tested and punished if they drink at all. Halfway houses. Angry spouses. It paints a very black and white scenario - whether you've had alcohol or not - but that's about it.
It's not without it's uses, but for somebody surviving a DUI and learning about how their body works with alcohol and trying to better every day… I'd rather go with a real breathalyzer that gives me the most information possible
That said, if you find use for them, by all means.
07/ 31 / 19
Hi everyone. Been a while, I know. Truth of the matter is that once you’re sentenced, you’ve done your classes, gotten rid of your interlock, got your license back, life continues where you left off. Sure, your insurance is still high, but there’s an end in sight.
You might not believe this, but there comes a time when you hardly even think about your DUI
It’s a good feeling. It’s a weird feeling.
Probation in CA lasts for three years. Throughout my journey with the DUI I kept getting different answers as to when it started. In my final assessment, my DUI class instructor told me that it started from the date of arrest. That made me feel better. It did not turn out to be the case. You’re on probation as soon as you get arrested
, but it doesn’t count towards your probation. Would’ve been nice if it did, but, alas, it’s just how things go.
My lawyer told me it would start from the day I was sentenced
. This seemed to make sense, but this, too, wasn’t quite the case. One day a few weeks ago, I decided to call up the DMV and double check (always a good idea)
to make sure that my probation had passed like it should have. It did. Just my last day of probation was a month and a half later than I had calculated.
No idea why, and there’s really nothing I could’ve done about it. Can you imagine calling the DMV, “Hi, while I didn’t violate my probation, can you retroactively make my probation have ended earlier?”
If I had to do it again, which I’m trying my damnedest not to, I would’ve gotten my lawyer or called myself to find a definitive date that my probation was over. Would’ve had a small little celebration to myself when midnight ticked over on the clock when it happened (not drinking and driving, of course).
The probation you go on for your first DUI (and possibly others) is called “Summary Probation”, which basically means “don’t fuck up or we’ll throw the book at you”. There’s no expensive probation officer, which is probably the first time they let you not have another fee they could charge you. No PO, no checking in, nothing like that. Just don’t mess up.
Additionally you can't refuse a field sobriety test, and your odds of getting picked at a DUI checkpoint
raise if they're checking plates (although I cruised through two, sober, without being tested).
So what is messing up?
Some people believe it’s committing any crime, but that’s not quite it. My lawyer told me that he had somebody arrested for shoplifting while on DUI probation and the court didn’t care, didn’t consider it a violation. (Update: I have been told in other states that this will trigger a violation, so best to keep clean as a whistle
) While this blog does not condone shoplifting or any other crimes in any way whatsoever, you should know what scrutiny you’re under.
This probation deals with alcohol and driving - basically you can’t get caught with even a drop of alcohol in your blood when you’re driving or else you’ll face some consequences (and remember, you can't refuse a test). The common thing to say is that it’s another DUI even if you’re at .0001, but that’s not true either. They can only give you a DUI if you’re over .08 (.05 now in some places), otherwise it’s “just” a probation violation, which means more school, more money paid, more probation. If you’re above .08 you get a DUI on top of that. Not good.
Other traffic infractions are fine. This I can verify personally - I did receive a parking ticket, and an out-of-state speeding ticket (14 over on the highway, bullshit speed trap), and neither affected my probation or caused any additional consequences (and yes, I was sweating bullets when pulled over on that highway and very worried about if this counts as a violation. Next rest stop I did a lot of googling until I calmed down enough to continue on my trip.)
Any sort of aggravated driving, road rage, that sort of thing takes you into the “maybe” territory. It’s all up to a judge and the system, and by this point you know how it goes. If they can, they usually will. You might catch a break, probably not, depends on a lot of things out of your control, and how you handle yourself around them. Bottom line: I wouldn’t depend on anything.
Your Summary Probation basically comes down to two tenets:
- Don’t drink and drive
- Don’t be an asshole.
Seems easy enough. But three years is a long, long time. It gets harder and harder the longer you are from your DUI. Drinks after work, wine with a meal, beer at a ballgame. The temptations are everywhere. And if you’re like me, and haven’t quit drinking, you’ll eventually indulge yourself.
“A beer or two won’t hurt, not like I’m getting drunk, not like that night”
And then you wait a little bit, don’t get ‘one more for the road’, call it early.
And then you get in your car, and you head home. With just a little bit in your system. Nothing too bad, just a little bit.
And then a cop gets behind you.
And then you start sweating, worrying. Praying that your tail light is working, making sure your seat belt is fastened tight.
And the cop keeps following you, and you start worrying if he is playing games with you, you’re worrying that he somehow knows that you’re in violation.
You turn off the radio, you pay the best attention you can, and then eventually the cop turns down another road, and you let out a big sigh of relief.
Then two weeks later your friend asks you to happy hour.
And you start to sweat again, and think about what could happen.
This is what it’s like. It’s easy in that you don’t really have to do anything except not mess up. It’s hard in that our society practically pushes people to drink and drive. Odds are you’re reading this because you went to a social function, or did something that we’re told is how you relax. You felt fine because we don’t teach people how alcohol affects the body and it’s impossible to “feel” what your BAC level is. We make fun of people who use breathalyzers, and everyone condemns drinking and driving but nearly everyone does it.
You’re going to find yourself in a lot of situations where you will be tempted to violate your probation. I suggest knowing your BAC by using a portable breathalyzer
, or taking an Uber or Lyft
Looking over your shoulder for cops all the time sucks.
Some lawyers will offer you a service to where they can reduce your probation, usually take off the third year. I didn’t go for this, they wanted a thousand dollars for it, and I’d spent enough. Instead, I went through the whole thing. The theory is they cite your fulfilling all your commitments and use your two years (one and a half in some cases) of not violating probation as evidence that you won’t violate it for the next. Works some times, doesn’t work others. I decided to stick it out, a thousand dollars buys a lot of Lyfts, and I can refuse one last round and wait it out.
And so I did.
And now I’m free.
Reader, I can’t tell you how good it feels to be free of the system to come this far. Now I just have to get past the 3-year anniversary of finalizing my suspension to get my insurance rates to fall to normal and then… it’s all behind me.
The journey is long, and it’s hard, but just take it one step at a time, and you can get through it. It costs a lot, and it takes up a lot of time, but you can get through it.
You can Survive a DUI.
03/ 02 / 18
Got an email from Len, who wanted to chime in on the breathalyzer issue. - Tom.
If a person has consumed alcohol away from home, and he or she is concerned about being over the legal blood alcohol limit
, a personal breath testing device (PBT) might control their decision about driving home. Such a device can help avoid an accident, injuries, a night in jail or all three of them. PBTs are used by many police departments across the country for purposes of establishing probable cause to take a driver down to the station for certified breath testing. They're also available to the general public to help keep that from happening. For a charge, some bars even have their own stationary breath testing machines for use by their customers.
You Get What You Pay For
Any person who frequently consumes alcoholic beverages and drives might want to have a portable breath testing device. PBTs are hand-held devices that a person can use to measure their blood alcohol concentration anywhere that they might be. Some models even plug into smartphones with an app that performs all of the computations. They might be told right away if it's safe to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle to drive home, or whether they should call Uber, Lyft
or a taxi service. What comes to issue is the consistency and reliability of these devices. There can be a differential of plus or minus 20 percent from one blow to another from the same person, especially on the least expensive models. That's a big variable when a determination must be made as to whether a person should even be thinking about driving.
PBT Reliability Issues
There's a reason why PBT testing isn't admissible for purposes of proving guilt or innocence in a DUI trial. Their results simply aren't reliable. Some units need to be periodically returned to the manufacturer for recalibration. Others simply deteriorate over time. Even the most expensive PBTs carry a disclaimer on the back of their packaging. Others are marked as being for personal or home use only. Remember the reason for that: PBT results are generally unreliable.
If you are considering a PBT see our review of this smartphone Breathalyzer
. If you're going to get a PBT this is the one to buy. We have done a thorough review of it here.
Trust Your Gut
It's more likely than not that if you have any amount of an alcoholic beverage on your breath, and you're the subject of a traffic stop, you're going to end up at the police station with a blow or no blow dilemma. Your PBT results are irrelevant. The decision on whether to blow is up to you, but remember, if you refuse that breath testing, and you're found guilty of DUI, the penalties are going to be even more severe.
Contact a lawyer
It is almost always worth hiring a DUI lawyer
after a DUI charge. You'll have questions, they'll advise you of your legal options, and you can decide on what direction you wish to take.
05/ 19 / 17
Ran into somebody the other day. Recognized him immediately, but wasn’t sure from where. Started talking, trying to figure it out. Then it came…
“Fuck that DUI class, man. That was some bullshit”.
Ah, yes. That’s where he’s from.
We caught up. He was one of the people I liked hearing from in the group session of class. Funny guy, honest. Hadn’t seen him in quite some time.
Made me think back.
A year ago, I was going every Wednesday to a three hour class, learning, and re-learning that what I had done was wrong. Learning that what others had done were wrong. Being lead in discussions around inane topics like “Why do you think people drink?”
A year ago I was going to an AA meeting every week, hearing people tell horrific stories of hitting the absolute rock bottom, then having to share “I had like three beers too many one night” and getting looks from everyone else.
A year ago, I would get into my car, turn the ignition and wait 45 seconds for my interlock to turn on
, and blow into it, and blow every 15 minutes to make sure that I hadn’t had any alcohol.
A year ago, I would have never had another person in my car.
A year ago, I would have to argue with a seedy car accessories owner to get two months on my interlock instead of one.
A year ago, I was getting constant reminders - from class, from my car, from the DMV, from my insurance, from tv commercials, that I had done something wrong.
A year ago I had to go into another separate class to tell me that yes, I had done something wrong.
While it wasn’t the most pleasant flashback, it made me realize how much this whole experience has changed me. More importantly, it’s nice how much I don’t have to think about my DUI every day, every car ride, every long meeting.
Today I drive my car freely, and easily.
Today I have passengers.
Today I am not required to be anywhere, at any time for the state.
Today I am half done with my probation.
Today I still feel bad about what I have done.
Today I realize that it doesn’t define me as a person.
Today I still drink, but when I do, I take an uber
Today if I end up drinking while out, I use my breathalyzer
to make sure I’m good to drive before I do.
Today I don’t drink as much as I once did.
Today I’m paying crazy high insurance.
Today I’m closer to having this behind me.
The process of satisfying the court seemed like it would never end. That every time I would have to calibrate my interlock another month seemed like it would be forever. Every class made it seem like time was standing still. It felt like I would be punished forever.
I’m glad that I can be here to say that you won’t be. You’re punished, and you do what you need to, and little-by-little, you get to think about it less. You feel the pain less and less every day.
You move on, and eventually life returns to normal.
When you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to imagine. The further you go along, the quicker it seems to go.
I know I started this blog with advice a lawyer told me, “It all goes away
”. It’s hard to believe in the moment, but I can tell you:
It all goes away.
It all goes away.
04/ 29 / 16
One of the biggest mistakes I made throughout this entire journey was to not really understand the effect alcohol has on my body.
I mean, I understand the general good feeling, becoming more talkative, and an elevated chance of saying yes to an outrageous dare or late night burritos…
But how many drinks is .08?
You can say “ok well, for an average man that would be…” but what is it for you?
If you’re drinking a one beer versus another when does that ABV (alcohol by volume) difference make a difference?
What’s your favorite bartenders pour like? If they’re your favorite, it’s probably a bit heavy. Or maybe even a lot heavy.
So if you have three heavy pour drinks what is your BAC an hour later? Two?
You can rely on the chart… but it, too, is an estimation.
What is your BAC when you’re feeling good? What does .08 feel like?
Some say to stop when you can’t feel your face… what BAC is that?
One of the first, and smartest, things I did after my arrest was to head online and buy a breathalyzer for myself… namely the BacTrack Mobile Smartphone Breathalyzer
. I did a little bit of research and the consensus was that it was an incredibly accurate one - which is what matters most of all.
Yes, paying $100 to monitor my alcohol after a conviction hurts a little bit, but it’s something I should have done a decade
When I first blew the cops portable breathalyzer it was the first
time I have ever
blown on such a machine, and what a colossal mistake that was
. Throughout college the only way I could gauge how much I drank was how bad the hangover was the next day. All my adult drinking life I determined if I could drive on how good I felt. I was sure that if I wasn’t too numb I could make it. So I drove drunk, and I had no idea I was doing it. I thought I was fine.
The cops don’t give DUIs based on feeling. They give it based on the readings of a machine. Having one of those machines of your own just makes sense
. I had thought about it a couple times over the years but shied away when I saw the price tag.
Get it. It’s well worth it. It’s much cheaper than getting it after
Knowledge truly is power, and now I know when I’m legal, and when I’m not (well, technically as I’m still on probation any detectable amount of alcohol is a violation when driving - but now I know when that alcohol is showing up and when it isn’t.)Get a breathalyzer
and keep it in your glove box. Blow in it after your happy hour - you’ll be shocked at what your reading is. How many times have you drank that much and driven? Hundreds maybe?
It’s also valuable to see how specifically your body handles alcohol - do you accelerate quickly? Do you burn off alcohol quickly? Or do you burn it off slowly? This knowledge will change your life for the better
Go drinking and blow into your breathalyzer the first thing in the morning - you’ll be completely blown away
at your BAC reading. I’ve had some instances where I didn’t get completely sober until 3 PM the next day
If you’re a parent this should be a gift to your children on their 21st birthday. I know that’s what mine will be getting. If there’s somebody in your life that is a heavy drinker, give them one, let them learn just how drunk they’re getting.
It seems ridiculous that mine pairs with my smartphone, but it’s been a surprisingly handy feature - it records my scores with timestamps, so I can see the rates of how my BAC rises and falls. I tend to sober up quicker than it estimates (not by that significant margin - usually an hour, hour and a half quicker after a night of drinking).
The most valuable lesson I’ve found: How I feel has little-to-no relation with my BAC
. There’s times where I’ve felt “oh man, I’m feeling good, I must be pretty drunk”, do the test and get a .04 (and retest and have my findings confirmed). Sometimes I’ll be feeling completely fine and get a .2!
Remember - this is what the cops are using against you. Know how it affects you.
04/ 28 / 16
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
04/ 27 / 16
The first few days after getting your DUI are incredibly rough - you feel absolutely worthless. You feel like a complete fuck up. You put your life in danger, you put others lives in danger. You’re usually so on top of things - how could you have been so careless? How could you have been so reckless?
To steal a line from another campaign: It gets better.
You made a mistake, and you’ll be punished for it. That’s how things happen. It’s not unlike the time you cheated on a test in 8th grade and got caught - you made a mistake, and you’ll be punished for it. You’re not getting expelled from school, you’re not getting sent to a special cheater ward, you’re getting punished, and before too long, you’ll barely remember it (hopefully), just like you barely remember what test it was back in eight grade.
I’m not excusing what you (or I) did, but if you’re anything like I was, you’ve been heavily googling for DUI information, reading about the harshest penalties ever given, then sweating all night worrying about not if, but for how long you’re going to prison. The random Google searches are a lot like looking at WebMD when you wake up with a stiff back - before too long you’ve diagnosed yourself with terminal cancer and just two weeks to live.
You’re 99.999999% not going to prison for your first arrest (especially without any priors) - and if you do, it’ll probably be your choice. (more on that later)
If it’s your second arrest, you might have a little bit of jail (not prison) ahead of you. A weekend, and with overcrowding, you will most likely serve a fraction of what you’re given. If you’re on your third, or on probation… it still might be some, but it will be doable - you’re not going for the rest of your life. If you killed somebody
, or they found guns or drugs in your car, well… the actual DUI is probably the least of your worries (Don’t do these things).
Most DUI cases are by a person who has no priors, no legal record, and just made a mistake.
Yes, you shouldn’t have cruised through that police checkpoint after splitting three bottles of wine with your friend, but you’re not going to a federal penitentiary over it. Most of the punishments you face for your first (and even second) DUI go away.
They go away.
You will not be branded for life. You will not be thrown away as a human being. You will not be excommunicated from society to live in the shadowlands. If you got into a wreck, cars can be fixed… it just takes some of your money to do so.If you got into a wreck and somebody was minorly injured, they’ll heal… and take a lot of your money to do so.
In some cases (some, not all, not most) they come out very well compensated for it, and it can even be a blessing to them. Some. (But if it helps you sleep at night…)In most cases you’re just going to have a few more commitments - both in time, and money.
Money, it sucks, but, you will have time to pay it off, and in installments, and when it’s like that, you have to tighten up the belt a little bit, but it’s not that bad. $2000 is daunting, and scary… but $166/mo for a year… it still sucks, but it’s not impossible. (You can also cut into your alcohol budget since you’ll most likely be cutting down on your drinking.)
The time commitments… They seem daunting at first as well, but they’re not bad. “A 3 Month Program” sounds huge, but, “Come in once a week and watch a lame video from the 70s” isn’t such a big of a deal. It’s mostly time-out for adults.
Plus, both the court and ancillary businesses (The DUI-Industrial Complex) are somewhat workable (more on this later) - if you make payments to the court in good faith and can establish that you’re hurting, they’ll work with you. If you’re low income the DUI class can be at a reduced cost. If you need to take a trip (or even a vacation) there’s provisions to move court dates, and classes to accommodate you.
The most difficult part is not driving for a while
. Unless you’re a New Yorker, it’s been a long time since you’ve had an extended period without driving. I absolutely dreaded the mandatory suspension
, but it was actually surprisingly manageable. Despite what they say, I walked in LA. I rode my bike more, I learned LA’s subway system (yes, we have one!) and stayed in a tad bit more (which I wanted to do since I wanted to get my drinking in check). Also, in this day and age, there’s always Uber and Lyft
- both are cheaper than a cab, and much, much, much cheaper than even one part of the DUI (as a true cheapskate I open up both apps and compare prices before I go. Gotta save that 20 cents!)
After the mandatory part, I was able to drive again, just with an ignition interlock device (more on this later)
. It sucks, but, I’m getting around, and it, too, goes away. Probation
- Just don’t fuck up for a while. It’s not the hardest thing to do once you’ve been through the wringer. Also, it can be reduced, and it goes away.
If you really want to, after a period of time you can expunge your DUI from your record, it can go away (it’s still priorable, so don’t get a second, but, you don’t need to keep talking about it).
Then, after 10 years, if you clean up your act and fly right - your DUI is no longer priorable. That means if you get another one after that time, it’s counted as your first. (I don’t need to say it, but even after 10 years, it’s never a good idea to get a DUI).
If you do what you have to, pay what you need to, act like you need to - it all goes away.
It all goes away.