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.
05/ 25 / 17
I love getting emails, tweets, reddit messages, etc. from all of you. It makes me feel good that I can give back by helping people get out from any sort of dark place they're at when they get a DUI. Recently one person asked how they could help support the site. Hadn't really thought that anybody would want to do that before, but, why not allow for the option?
The blog takes time, hosting costs, and, of course, a conviction on a DUI to get to you.
If you want to, I've set up a PayPal below that you can donate to. You will never be under any obligation to donate, ever. There will never be a "private" section of this blog, there will never be a club that gets insider information, or anything like that. This blog will always be dedicated to giving people as much information as clearly as possible, without any restrictions. I will never try to solicit a donation in exchange for advice. If you email me
, I'll respond the best I can for free, forever.
But, if somebody wants to help me with the costs… I won't say no.
You can donate with PayPal here. If you use a credit card, the charge will read "SADBlog". Figured you have enough things that say "DUI" on them already.
Again, no pressure. All information will be here free, always.
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.
01/ 26 / 17
Today was an interesting day.
Went down to the courthouse to pay my fine. My deadline is coming up and I wanted to get it out of the way. Most of my time was spent arguing how to do it - should I drive there and park or should I take the train and not worry about parking? How long is this going to take? Should I go early or wait till after the lunch rush?
Most of that wasn't the issue (I walked right up to one of the clerks)
However - I came to find that not all of my paperwork had been filed. The clerk informed me that neither my DMV certificate nor my MADD certificate had been filed. I was shocked! I had taken care of these things more than 9 months ago!
I called my lawyer's office - my lawyer was no longer part of the firm. I explained to them what was going on and within ten minutes they had everything sorted out and a person to go down to the courthouse tomorrow or Monday to file everything.
A few lessons learned:
- Don't wait - The longer you wait, the more chances that something will change, something will go wrong, some mistake will be made. The sooner you take care of stuff, the sooner you're not worrying about it, and the more time you have to correct things if they go wrong.
- Check and Double Check - Last Spring I biked over to my lawyer's office (I was on full suspension) and turned in my documents. I assumed that he would turn them in to the court in the next few days or so. No real worry. But he hadn't. Either he was waiting for me to drop off the check to pay my fine, or left the firm shortly thereafter (No idea when he left). But my documents had not been filed. It was a mistake to assume that they were.
This is a tough process, I know. And it's no fun, and it's a lot of hassle. But being early, and thorough will save you a lot of headache. If I had gone in at the last moment, I could've had a longer probation, more fines, or worse.
Get it done early, and double check.
05/ 19 / 16
So one of the weird little… quirks… of my arrest was they didn’t actually process me. It seems to happen about 50% of the time. Anecdotally the biggest factor seems to be when you catch the police officer in their shift (although some argue if you catch them at the end of their shift that they’re more likely to issue a warning and let you go).
So after you’ve plead out or otherwise received your conviction you’ll be given a wealth of paperwork, ordering you to take the DUI classes, conditions of your probation, etc. If you haven’t been booked you’ll receive a document ordering you to go to a certain police department and turn yourself in.
When you receive this document you will not have long to turn yourself in - only seven days, and it’s not something you want to mess around with. If you fail to go in for booking you will have another court appearance and it’s generally not advisable. You don’t need to push them any more, you’ve lost, get things taken care of.
Booking offices are open 7 days a week, but may have limited hours due to budget cuts, holidays, and other reasons. Get it over with quickly in case you end up at the precinct and it ends up being closed.
When going to book yourself you’ll need your booking order, a photo ID (passport or state-ID works). I brought along my sentencing memo (the long form) just in case, but didn’t end up needing it. Better safe than sorry. I didn’t want to come back.
I had to book myself while on the hard no-driving-whatsoever suspension. Fortunately, downtown and the central government buildings are the most covered by public transportation. In any major, or large city, there should be many ways to get to your booking office.
Finding the place was a little bit difficult. The address given on my document was closed up. Doors barricaded, empty inside. I had to go to the place next door, that was labeled as a different part of the police. Again, give yourself ample time. Budget cuts have really messed with local government infrastructure. The area around these big police departments have a heavy feel. There’s hotels built just so family members can see loved ones in jail. Don’t think you’ll be able to stop in somewhere and use the bathroom - everything is on lockdown.
A friend of mine thought the idea of getting booked was really cool and wanted to take me down to get booked. They wanted to hang out, drink police coffee, and hear stories from the cops. I declined their offer, and glad I did. They won’t let anybody go into the building with you.
Walking into the building, you just get a heavy feeling. You’re looked upon as a criminal. Your mind starts to flashback through all the stories you’ve heard on the news where a typo means that they hold a guy for years wrongly, and stuff like that. Don’t worry. Again, like most of this process, your nerves will be the worst part of it. It’s a quick and easy process.
Don’t bring a bag with you, don’t bring weapons with you (as stupid as it sounds, it happens), don’t bring anything that can get you in trouble (again, it happens), and if you have any warrants out, well, this is your reckoning. You go through the metal detector and then are given forms to fill out about yourself - height, weight, address, basic stuff. Fill this out accurately as this stuff will be part of your criminal record. There’s a place for your occupation. I filed mine out, but the cops didn’t understand what I did, so they put “sales”. Apparently this is routine. It was nice to have a light, funny moment during this heavy moment for me.
You’ll be taken to a back room where you’ll have your hands scanned. What’s nice about this process is that you won’t be given the oily, difficult to remove ink when you’re usually fingerprinted by cops, instead you put your hand on a scanner that has a roller on it, and it scans your whole handprint. You can see how your handprint shows up on screen. It’s actually kinda cool.
Then comes the big moment - you have to remove any hats, glasses, earrings, facial piercings, and other accessories (best not to bring them in the first place if it can be helped) and look at a certain place on the wall for your mugshot. It’s not like it is in the movies anymore - you don’t hold up a thing with your booking numbers, you don’t turn to the side - you just look a little bit to the side. There’s no flash, it’s done by just a little webcam sized thing mounted on the ceiling.
In LA County, where I got mine, mugshots are not made available to the public. Which was nice to know that I’d never have to worry about a friend randomly googling around and coming across it, or anything like that. Kind of a bummer that I could never see it. Seems like most places are shifting away from immediately publishing mugshots on the web to prevent the business where people publish mugshots with SEO words and personal information and hold convicted people hostage - demanding money to take it down. Seems they don’t like anybody making money off of the system unless it’s them. But it’s nice to know that it’s generally becoming something that you won’t have to worry about.
After you’ve gotten your mugshot you’ll be sat down in the waiting room again, and after a few minutes you’ll be given a pink form - your prisoner’s receipt. Generally this is for having a record of your possessions when you get booked, but since you’re not actually ingested into prison, it’s just a record that you actually checked yourself in. Hold on to it just in case anything happens to where the court loses documentation on their end (it happens).
Leaving the police station, even without staying too long, felt like a big relief. It wasn’t a place I wanted to stay around. Things felt different, though. I’d been booked, handprinted, and my mugshot taken. I was a documented criminal. It’s a weird feeling to process.
I ended up hanging out in that part of town for a while. I had nowhere to be, I’d taken a personal day to get booked. Might as well explore, try out a new restaurant, hope that I wouldn’t ever return.
05/ 01 / 16
Having called many lawyers, visited a few, and agonizing over the decision, I was ready to hire a lawyer. It’s an important milestone in the process because it’s the first time where you decide to put up a defense - as feeble as it may be.
Even if you are completely guilty, you need to defend yourself. Even if you have no priors, you need to defend yourself. The legal system is tricky, there’s so many opinions that come into play, even in what should be a clear cut case, you need to defend yourself.
I naively believed that I could beat my case, so I hired a punchy lawyer. Based on what I knew then, it was the right choice for me at the time. Now, now I believe I could have saved myself some money, but not a lot.
Could I afford the lawyer? Not really. But I didn’t feel that I had much of an option. The legal system is scary. I wasn’t afraid that they’d lock me up for life, but I was worried abut all the different options that could happen to me. A public defender didn’t seem to be an option, and I certainly couldn’t go for it myself.
So, I made my pick, and told him my financial circumstances, and he worked with me. I didn’t expect this, but if you want, you can just put your lawyer services on a credit card. It’s not the most financially sound option (I think, I’m not great at that stuff), but it’s there. Most will also take payments - either monthly or quarterly. So, now for 18 months, I pay a bit of my legal fees off. The way things worked out, it’s not the huge drain I thought it would be. Have to tighten up the belt a bit, for sure, but, it wasn’t as bad as I imagined it would have been, nor as bad as I thought when the numbers came sliding across my lawyer’s desk.
I feel the sting from it, absolutely, but, it’s manageable. I’m greatly looking forward to the day I make the last payment, but, I can handle this.
Even in spite of me wrongly believing I could fight this, hiring the lawyer made me feel safe. I felt that I would be in a better position than otherwise, and for once I felt like I had somebody on my side. The whole world wasn’t against me - I’ve got my lawyer on my side!
I can’t say what’s right for you, or your situation. When it came down to it, I felt better safe than sorry. If I need money somewhere down the line, there’s always more options, working a second job, loans, etc. I wouldn’t have a second chance at this - there’s always more chances to make money.
The best way I can put it is the entire DUI process feels like you’re a kid on the playground and you’re just getting slapped around. There’s this process, and this fee, and this hurdle, and it all comes at you at once. Your lawyer is the big kid who says, “Hey, you can only slap him this many times, and you have to take turns”.
So, a little better.
04/ 29 / 16
The first few days after a DUI arrest are the worst part of the whole experience.
No, I'm not exaggerating.
If you're like me, if you're like most people, you're going to absolutely beat yourself up. You'll feel the pain of knowing what you did, the fear of all the possible things that could happen to you. You'll feel anxiety, nervousness, guilt, self-hatred and loathing. It's an incredible mix of conflicting yet all-negative emotions swirling around in the pit of your stomach, your heart, and your head all at once.
It's an incredibly difficult, depressing time.
Your conscience is going to tell you the 50 ways you made mistakes that night, tell you about all the other times you did and got away with it, tell you how you could've killed yourself or, even worse, somebody else, maybe even a kid, or a family.
What are your friends going to think? Will they ever talk to you again? Are you going to walk into a place and watch as everybody becomes quiet and starts pointing fingers, "Look, there's the guy who drove drunk!".
In my experience, you will beat yourself up worse than anybody else. You expect other people to yell at you, and revile you, and say awful things… truth be told… it doesn't really happen. You'll be told that you should have known better and that you fucked up, but, everyone knows that it's wrong to do, and they most likely have done it themselves. So they're not that hard on you. Not as hard as you would expect. The other DUI offenders I've spoken to have generally reflected this sentiment as well. Driving drunk is something that everybody knows is wrong and nearly everybody does. It's bad, it's stupid, it's wrong, but it's just how it is.
The churning stomach doesn't start. I don't think I ate the day afterwards until late and I really had to. You wake up and it's the first thing you think about, at night it's the last thing you think about - usually making you stay awake for an hour, maybe two, maybe more, in bed turning worst case scenarios over and over again in your head. At work it's always in the back of your head, biting at you, making you wonder if everybody knows somehow.
Again, I'm sorry that you're going through this. I felt completely worthless as a human being, and it took some time to get over these feelings. The remorse I felt was more than I could ever express in any way, and I'm sure yours is too. The thought of feeing those feelings again is more of a deterrent for me than anything else.
I cried, I prayed for forgiveness, I was depressed, I felt completely horrible.
Ironically, the pain of my DUI lead me to drink more than ever. At home, of course. Hair of the dog? Maybe. I was certainly bitten. Sign of a reliance on alcohol? Perhaps. It only now really hits me how funny it is that we celebrate both the successes and victories in life by drinking, and use it to morn our losses and express our condolences.
I drank, and I drank a lot. Beer, vodka, whatever. I drank in a dark room feeling sorry for myself. I hated myself for what had happened. Was it the best way to get the feelings out? Maybe, probably not.
But it worked.
After two or three days of wallowing in self-pity, I came out of my complete depression, and put it together - alright, we messed up, let's do what we can to make things the best they can be, fix the things we can, make amends, and get it to where we can move on.
Do I recommend heavy drinking afterwards? No, of course not. But I recommend getting your grief out, in whatever manner is appropriate for you.
Be sad, get the emotions out, then prepare to move on.
This is a temporary thing, it won't change too much of your life.
You can get through this and on with your life.
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.