A DWI case from a cop’s point of view: why cops hate them.
Everyone knows that the cops are always lurking in the areas around bars at closing time. There is nothing a cop would rather do than arrest some hardworking taxpayer for having a couple drinks after work.
Actually, that’s not exactly the truth. Most officers only stop DWI’s after seeing a car being driven so bizarrely it’s obviously a threat to public safety. Then a stop will be made because cleaning up the carnage after a wreck is so disturbing, the DWI is easier – that’s the only time it’s easier.
Why don’t all officers seek out DWIs? Let me count the whys. First, prime time for DWIs is from about 11 p.m. to around 2:30 a.m. That happens to also be prime time for disturbances, fights, assaults, property damage and traffic accidents (often a byproduct of DWIs). Most officers are out of service working those types of calls as the drunks leave the bars because they don’t have time to prowl for them.
If they do end up stopping a DWI, they are tied up for an extensive amount of time while other officers may be crying for help and fighting for their lives.
But to really understand why cops hate DWIs, you have to understand what happens after they see that car being driven on the sidewalk or off a retaining wall. First there is the car stop. Drunks, for some reason aren’t too aware of the world around them. Flashing red lights and the blare of a siren don’t quite register. They keep weaving all over the road, oblivious to any other vehicles, including police cars.
If another police unit is available, it can be called to assist in the stop. One police car in front with another behind slowing to a stop, together either works or it places one more car in the way for the drunk to run into. Either way, the stop gets made.
Now comes the fun part. The officer gets to stand there while a drunk tries to figure out how to roll down the window. Window down . . . now he has to find his wallet . . . now he has to find his driver’s license.
Up to this point the meeting has been relatively nice and cordial. Watch all that disappear when ‘the question’ is asked. “Have you been drinking tonight?” Now it all goes south. The officer stands there while the drunk vents. Usually they start by explaining just who pays the officer’s salary and it deteriorates from there. It doesn’t end until they run out of profanity.
Once they wind down, the officer explains that he is concerned the driver may have had too much to drink; that he might possibly be a hazard to other motorists. By quickly adding, “If you can pass a few simple field sobriety tests, I’ll be able to let you drive on home,” they usually calm down.
The standardized field sobriety tests are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand. As the tests are performed, the officer must take notes because he will need the information later for his report.
The HGN is the one where the cop holds up a finger and tells the driver to watch the finger tip as it is moved side to side. Nystagmus is an involuntary tic of the eye as the pupil moves toward the outer edge of the eye socket: the earlier the onset of this tic, the higher the degree of intoxication. A cop with several years experience can predict the blood alcohol content very accurately from just this test. It’s done first because it requires only that the driver be able to stand without falling over.
The walk-and-turn is done next. It requires that the driver stand in one spot, listen to instructions, and then take nine steps in a straight line heel-to-toe, turn and take nine steps back. They are scored on how well they do on the test.
The one-leg-stand is just that. Stand on one leg while counting a-thousand-one, a-thousand-two, etc., until told to stop. The officer stops them after 30 seconds if they are still standing. Again, they are scored by how well they do on the test.
Well, the easy part is over. If the driver didn’t stagger off a curb, fall and get injured while doing the walk-and-turn or one-leg-stand, great. If he did fall, it’s time to call an ambulance and have him taken to the hospital-even if he says he’s not hurt. An intoxicated person is not capable of knowing whether of not they are hurt.
If he isn’t taken to the hospital, then wakes up in the morning with something broken, the police department and the officer are going to be sued. You don’t even want to know the amount of paperwork that entails.
If the driver doesn’t fall, and the standardized tests indicate he’s intoxicated-he probably is because at that time of the night an officer wouldn’t be making traffic stops unless the driving was erratic. The driver is placed under arrest, handcuffed, searched, and placed in the police car. Now we can really begin to explain why cops hate DWI arrests.
The police officer is now responsible for the drunk’s car. If anything happens to it, if it is stolen, damaged, wrecked, or property is taken from it, the officer and/or his city will have to pay for it. For that reason, the car must be towed. A tow sheet must be filled out and marked so the car will be held until the owner is sober. That is form #1: the first one of the night.
An Owner Notification form must be filled out and given to the driver if he is the owner (he’s not going to remember where his car was taken), or the owner must located and given, or sent, a copy of the form. That is form #2.
While waiting for the wrecker, the drunk will have been sitting still long enough for the world to start spinning. This can cause vomiting and loss of bladder or bowel control. Luckily, this doesn’t require any paperwork other than paper towels to clean out the mess but it can make the long wait for the wrecker miserable. The smell can last for days.
Once at the station, our drunk is placed in a chair next to the breath testing machine. Here form #3 is filled out: a four page Alcohol Influence Report. It is a combination fill-in-the-blanks and check-the-box report along with a small narrative. The Miranda Rights and the Implied Consent law are covered in this one report. So far, we have three reports with a total of five pages.
Next the breath testing machine is turned on and an operational checklist, form #4, is filled out as well as the operation log for the machine, form #5. The driver’s and arresting officer’s information are typed into the machine. Form #6 is fed into the machine and becomes the machine’s printout at the completion of the test. The operational checklist and the machine’s printout are physical evidence. An evidence form, form # 7, must be filled out and placed in the evidence room.
Depending on whether or not the driver blows in the machine, either a Refusal Form or a Blood Alcohol form becomes form #8. We now have 8 forms consisting of 11 pages.
If the machine indicated a blood alcohol reading of .08 or above, a temporary 15 day driving permit must be filled out. The subject’s driver’s license is attached to the original, to be sent into the DOR, and a copy is given to the driver, form #9.
For legal reasons, the latest Maintenance Form for the breath testing machine must be photocopied and attached to the report, form #10.
At least two tickets will be issued to the driver. One for the offense that caused the initial stop (probable cause), and one for DWI, forms 11 & 12.
Now the driver must be booked, form #13. That’s a three page form: the booking sheet, the property sheet, and the health information. We now have 13 forms totaling 18 pages.
Two fingerprint cards must be individually filled out, with the fingerprints inked, for every DWI arrest, forms 14 and 15.
The police department is responsible for people while they are locked up in jail. An intoxicated person can go into delirium tremens (sometimes fatal), aspirate vomit and stop breathing, or simply fall and seriously injure themselves. Additional manpower must be expended to keep them under observation.
For that reason, the police department doesn’t want to house a person who is intoxicated any longer than they absolutely must. Every effort is made to locate a sober family member who can come to the police station and pick him up.
Before a family member can take them, they must post an appearance bond, form 16, which must be logged in the Bond Book, form 17. Any money for the bond must be dropped into the slot of the locked bond-box until retrieved by a court clerk. The family member must then sign another form acknowledging they understand they are responsible for the subject and avowing they won’t let him drive until he is sober, form 18. We’re now at eighteen forms consisting of twenty-three pages.
The state allows the police department to recoup some of the expenses of processing DWIs. The driver can be billed for the officer’s time, the cost of using the breath testing equipment or having blood drawn, and the cost of a clerk’s time to enter the arrest in the statewide computer system. This is accomplished through the DWI Recoupment Form. Form #19.
In a perfect world, that would be it, but this isn’t a perfect world. Because almost all the above forms are paper forms that were filled out by hand, they can’t be accessed through the computer system. For that reason, most of the information from those forms must now be typed into the police report system as a separate DWI Arrest Report, form #20.
This report will be a minimum of four pages but may be many more if there are additional circumstances. That places us at 20 forms consisting of at least 28 pages.
That is it for a simple DWI report; however, as noted above, many of them have additional circumstances. Often DWIs involve traffic accidents (form #21, a minimum 4 page report). If the accident involved a police car, the accident form grows to somewhere around 10 pages, including the result of the officer’s breath test (and related paperwork) to show that he hadn’t been drinking. Because of an officer’s involvement, additional officers, accident investigators and a supervisor are called in.
If the driver is injured by falling while doing the standard sobriety tests, in a traffic accident, or by the officer defending himself from the DWI’s assault – not unusual when handing drunks – the subject must go to the hospital to have blood drawn and be treated for his injuries (often taking four hours or more).
The information on the attending physician, the extent of injuries and the person drawing blood are received in forms from the hospital (forms 21 & 22). The drawn blood, being evidence, must be marked, tagged and placed in the evidence refrigerator until it can be transferred to the lab. A chain-of-custody evidence sheet and the evidence logbook must be filled out (forms 23 & 24).
Oh, yes, and we mustn’t forget about felony DWIs. If someone has had two prior convections for DWI, the third is a felony. Usually the initial record check on the individual will reveal prior convictions. If there are two or more, warrants must be applied for (form 25). The prosecuting attorney requires certified copies of the prior court dispositions before prosecuting the case.
To get certified copies, the officer either has to drive to the courthouses in the cities where the arrests were made, and physically pick up the copies, or mail a request on departmental letterhead to the courts that adjudicated the cases (form 26 & 27). If there is no response to the request after several weeks, the officer can ask that the letters be sent from the Police Chief’s office (forms 28 & 29) in hopes that the chief of police’s signature carries more weight than that of a patrolman. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
The final chapter to all this is the subpoenas for court appearances (almost always two or more for DWIs), usually with appearances set for 9 a.m. but they are somehow never actually called until 4 p.m. On about 50% of the court appearances, the drunk driver’s attorney will appear and say his client is busy and can’t make it. The judge will then routinely set another court date.
If for some reason the officer can’t make it to court, the judge will dismiss the case. The officer will have to reapply for the warrants and may face disciplinary action for not appearing in court if his excuse is deemed lacking. For that matter, if the officer causes the case to be dismissed due to the loss or omission of any form; or simply failing to completely fill out any of the needed forms, he may face disciplinary action.
In a worse case scenario, the finished report will be around fifty pages – unless there was a fatality in an accident. Then you can double it.
Believe me, most cops hate DWIs but they are still better than cleaning up the carnage after the crash. On a bad day the officer gets the DWI and the carnage.