The roads are slick out there these days. So slick that our "driving patterns" may provide just the "suspicion" needed to stop and check to see whether we have been drinking and driving. I have some experience with this over the past few weeks – and in two cases, charges of driving under the influence (DUI) have ultimately been reduced.
In the first case, officers at a one-car rollover accident found a prescription medication in the crumpled skeleton of a small sedan and concluded that the driver must have "over-corrected, gone out of control and rolled into the median" because he was under the influence of a prescribed medication. They came to this conclusion without the benefit of any test, and charged him with DUI.
Their real "proof" of impairment was his speech. After rolling his car and having been taken by ambulance to a hospital, he "seemed confused." Did they consider the fact that he had suffered a concussion and serious injuries? No. Was there any proof that he had taken the meds recently, or in an amount that would interfere with his ability to drive? No. But charge him they did, and now his record will forever reflect that he was a defendant in a criminal case charging him with DUI.
Come on – let’s use a little common sense. How about not presuming that everyone who rolls his car on slick roads must be drunk or using some medication to excess. Cops and prosecutors should be able to apply their own life experiences to situations such as this one and admit that sometimes a roll-over is just a roll-over.
In the end a prosecutor decided to reduce the charge to careless driving. Had we gone to trial, my client was was headed for an acquittal. After all – there was absolutely no proof that the driver had been under the influence of any medication. The driver was out the time and expense of dealing with the baseless charges, but that did not really seem to matter to the officer or the prosecutor.
Here’s the bottom line: any "driving pattern" that looks careless – like sliding around a frozen corner, or not fully stopping before entering a road from a parking lot – can be the basis to stop you, and "check" on your sobriety.
And even if officers do not find evidence that alcohol has impaired your driving, beware that lack of common sense.
Consider the facts of a local case related to me yesterday: an employee who is sick and headed home for some couch time drives out of a parking lot to be stopped for "swerving." This happens in the afternoon – so the automatic probable cause for driving after midnight will not apply. Employee has not been drinking and is not under the influence of anything more than influenza. Officer says employee must be on some medication. Employee insists he is sick and asks to go to the ER. Cop insists on a blood draw – to "prove" that he is right and this driving fool must be intoxicated and on something. Officer performs field sobriety tests and arrests employee, who is booked and has to bond out and hire a lawyer.
And all of this without so much as any evidence that employee is operating his car under the influence of anything. Employee will spend hours of time and a thousand bucks or more to prove his innocence.
This is not the way the law is intended to work.
Police officers should not stop you "just because." They should not be trained to assume anyone who swerves is under the influence. And we should not have to prove our innocence. They should treat us like they would want to be treated if stopped for no real reason.
So be careful out there. Watch your driving pattern. Be patient with officers who insist you are wrong because your day will come. But if you are innocent – insist on preserving your rights.