Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Alexandria Police Chief Was Given Four Tests and Two Hours to Sober Up

Just as I had suspected, the officers who arrested the Alexandria, Virginia, Chief of Police for drunk driving gave him a good long time in which to metabolize his blood alcohol content before he was put on the breathalyzer. They first ran him through a whole battery of field sobriety tests, and then waited two hours after arrest to have him do the breath test (Alexandria Chief Failed 4 DUI Tests):

Baker, who is on administrative leave, failed four field sobriety tests: the nine-step walk and turn, the 30-second leg lift, counting backwards and saying the alphabet, the complaint says.

Just after midnight, about two hours after the accident, Baker took a breath test, which registered a blood alcohol level of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08. The crash sent the other driver to the hospital with whiplash and back pain, authorities said.

Baker, who is 6-foot-1 and weighs 210 pounds, told police that he had two beers about 20 minutes before the accident, the report said. When the arresting officer asked where Baker had been earlier that night, Baker's answer was unclear, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is pending.

I wonder how that two-hour delay compares with the average arrest-to-breath-test times for other drunk drivers processed by the Arlington County Police? The operator of a breathalyzer has to wait a certain amount of time before doing a test - usually 15 to 20 minutes - because he needs to observe the arrestee long enough to ascertain that he is not belching or burping and thereby getting 'mouth alcohol' into the breath sample, which can significantly spike the test results. "My client burped" or "my client wears dentures and must have blown sequestered undigested alcohol into the test sample" are common legal defenses when drunk driving charges are based on breath test results alone [the motto of the defense bar ought to be "Reasonable Doubt for a Reasonable Price"]. But there is no need to wait two hours.

And was it was really necessary for the arresting officers to go through four field sobriety tests before deciding that Chief Baker needed to blow into a tube? Anyone who blew a 0.19 more than two hours after his last drink must have been quite obviously intoxicated long before they made him stand on one leg and count backwards. At best, the officers were playing for time while waiting on instructions. At worse, they were playing out the clock hoping Chief Baker would sober up a bit before they had to collect more evidence. I once arrested a drunk driver who blew a 0.18 and it was barely possible to get him to walk safely, much less do any kind of sobriety test. [When he went to court, that driver asked the judge to dismiss the charges on the grounds that when I caught him he wasn't actually driving, since at that point he had crashed his car and was merely sitting in it. Pretty good thinking for someone without a law degree!]

I'm fully expecting Chief Baker to do an Oprahesque public confession and then enter rehab. After 30 days of sobriety he'll be in a better position to throw himself on the mercy of the court.

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