So one evening, I’m out driving along with one of our new assistant prosecutors in my car because they have to do ride-alongs with us to get a feel for what we do and how the cases actually get to their office.
Of course since I have a ride-along, I can’t find a damned thing to get into. I never can when I have a rider who needs to actually see something. It’s a curse, really.
But then I stop the car being rather stupidly driven. It’s speeding and it seems to be having a bit of trouble staying in it’s lane. I point out to my passenger the number of times that the car crosses the right shoulder fog line and/or the center line ( three times and twice in less than a mile, respectively) and then I light it up. The pulls over onto the next highway exit ramp, but instead of stopping immediately, it goes to the top of the ramp, then turns onto the connecting street and pulls to the curb.
I approach the driver and sole occupant and see that she’s a young blonde woman in her late twenties. I also immediately detect the odor of alcoholic beverages and observe that her eyes are red and that her pupils are dilated, all signs of alcohol use.
I introduce myself and explain that I’ve stopped her due to her speed. She’s smiling and cooperative, and in response to my “casual” follow-up questions, she says that she’s coming from a dinner put on by her law school and that she’s on her way to her boyfriend’s house.
Law school. Great. Experience has shown that there are few people as reliably stupid and/or aggravating as a law student. They think that they know it all, and most of what they “know” is, of course, wrong.
I congratulate her on being a law student, then when she smiles and thanks me, I ask her how much she had to drink tonight. “Oh, I just had a glass of wine,” she says.
Now based upon my observations and experience, I know that she’s had way more than one glass of wine. I ask her to step out of her car for a moment so that I can talk to her up on the sidewalk, and she does. I notice that she’s a bit unsteady on her feet, and I get another strong scent of booze as she gets out of the car, still all smiling and cooperative. Once up on the sidewalk, I ask her to submit to the field-sobriety tests. I really don’t need her to at this point, since between her driving behavior, my initial observations and her admission that she’d been drinking, I’ve already got enough probable cause to take her in. But more is always better.
And now the fun begins. Little miss law student has just figured out that she might be in trouble. The smile disappears from her face, replaced by a panicked look.
“Uhhhhh….You’re not allowed to ask me that,” she says.
OK, I’m curious now. I ask her why not. This should be good. My attorney rider seems a bit amused too.
“Well you haven’t explained all of the possible consequences of my taking the test and my refusing to take the test,” she says. People have to understand their rights and this is an important decision that can really affect me.”
I tell her that she’s correct in that it’s an important decision, and then I tell her that there’s no obligation on my part to explain a lot of things. It’s really a “yes or no” question and it’s her choice either way. “Besides”, I add. “You’re a law student. You’re obviously bright enough to understand this.”
“Yes, I know that I am,” she replies. “However, the standard here is what a layperson would understand, and you can’t use my extra education against me. I’m entitled to the same consideration as a layperson, and this is way too important a decision for a layperson to understand. So you need to explain everything to me.”
“Well that’s not going to happen, I tell her. The simple question is whether you’re going to take the test and demonstrate that you’re safe to drive, or whether I’m going to just take you in for a breath test and a mandatory blood test if you refuse that.”
“But I have a right to know!” she exclaimed.
“Yes you do,” I told her. “But that’s your responsibility. You could have learned all of this stuff any time that you wanted to. You apparently chose not to. So think of this as a test that you didn’t study for.”
So she changed her tack. Now she wanted to go at my authority.
“You can’t arrest me for anything,” she said. “You’re from the highway, and we’re not on the highway any more.”
I told her that I hated to disappoint her, but I had the same jurisdiction up here as I do down on the highway; there’s no difference.
“But the jurisdiction rule still applies to evidence,” she proclaimed. “You saw me driving down there on the highway, and if I crossed the lines there, it doesn’t matter because I’m off the highway now and this isn’t the highway…it’s not the same.”
OK, she gets props for originality if nothing else. I see my rider snickering so I introduce him. “I’m sorry, but this is Tom Xxxxxx. He’s one of our new prosecutors here in District Court. And that makes him a real lawyer. What do you think, Tom? You ever hear anything like this when you were in law school?”
Tom said that he didn’t, so I asked her one more time if she wanted to try the field-sobriety tests and convince me that she really wasn’t under the influence. “Last chance…” I told her as I unsnapped my cuff case.
“OK, ok…” she said. “I’ll do it. I don’t have to, but I just want to show you that I’m not drunk.”
So saying, she took the tests. And she failed resoundingly. Click, click. The cuffs went on and I put her in the back of my cruiser. I walked up to her car to secure it.
“Hey!” she began yelling. “Hey, ASSHOLE!”
I stopped to look at her, my attention caught by this latest change in her demeanor.
“You can’t look in my car! You don’t have consent! Touch my car and I’m suing!”
I walked back to her. “I guess you haven’t had the class on ‘search incident to arrest’ yet, eh?”
“The black bag on my seat is personal property and separate from the car! You can’t look in there!”
I just turned to Tom. “Feel free to explain,” I told him as I walked back up. By the time that he presumably told her that anything in the car was fair game, I’d already looked in the bag and observed it’s contents. Not illegal—just amusing. I imagined that her boyfriend was going to be disappointed tonight.
After I finished my inventory search, I went back and asked her if she wanted me to leave the bag of sex toys in the car or take them back and log them in as personal property at the station.
So I took her back to the station and began explaining the breath test procedure to her, but she interrupted and told me that she had a right to an attorney and that she wouldn’t take it until she was allowed to find an attorney and have him present. Fine. I bundled her back up and just took her to the hospital for a blood draw, listening to her caterwaul all the way about how I was violating her rights and I was going to be sued and fired and how she was going to win everything that I’ve ever owned…
It’s times like this that I’m grateful that cruisers come with stereos.
Flash forward two months to court. She walks in all professionally attired, the perfect picture of poise. She’s refused any plea offers, probably because her a blood-alcohol content was in excess of 0.15, guaranteeing her a minimum five days in jail following conviction. The case was presented and she was, of course, found guilty, with the judge suppressing a smile more than once as her antics and claims were retold in court. Finally, she was asked if she had anything that she wanted to say.
“Well your Honor…I just wanted to say that I have always admired this court and you personally and I hope that you can find it in your heart to show some mercy here, as my goal ever since beginning law school was to become a clerk in this very court.”
Wow. We all looked to the judge to see how that line was going to play.
“Well I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he told her. “but nothing will prevent you from submitting a resume once you finish your five days in jail and year of probation.”
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