Last night, TLC debuted its new series, “D.U.I.” Two episodes ran last night, each featuring two DUI arrests apiece. We were also shown the booking process and court resolution.
Intercut with this were the comments of the arrestees and police. At no point were any attorneys or DUI experts presented to give their own thoughts.
To me, the show neatly encapsulated many of the things I have been discussing in this blog.
1. A DUI is expensive.
In both shows that aired last night, there were two arrestees — a college student and the head of a low-income household. Emphasis was placed on the high cost of bond, court fines, the possibility of vehicle towing/impoundment and the economic consequences of a possible jail sentence.
2. DUIs are big money-makers for local governments.
As I have previously stated, DUIs have become a big source of income for local governments. In this show we see how exorbitant costs associated with a DUI impact average people who are barely getting by to begin with.
Faced with incarceration, these people have to suddenly come up with thousands of dollars for bond, fines, alcohol treatment and (not shown at all) legal fees.
As I have said before, it is politically safe for a politician to generate revenue this way; instead of being accused of raising taxes, they can claim to be tough on crime. What they are actually doing is a regressive tax, that hurts the poor most. These are also the people who can least afford a vigorous defense to these shaky allegations leveled against them.
3. Police have “DUI on the brain”
Three of the four arrests depicted arose out of roadside safety checks or roadblocks. These defendants were driving perfectly fine, but they ran into a squadron of officers looking to add to their DUI totals. (The fourth arrest was for some poorly explained minor moving violation that wasn’t depicted). DUI roadblocks are a fairly recent development that would seem to violate our Constitutional right to be free from search and seizure unless there is a warrant or probable cause. However, the courts have found what lawyers often jokingly call the “DUI exception” to the Constitution which allows all sorts of police tactics with the good intention of reducing the number of DUI-related traffic fatalities (we all know about the “road to good intentions” — notice how none of the DUIs on the show involve an accident?).
4. DUIs are arbitrary and subjective
These officers were focused on the “smell” of alcohol or cannabis in the car. Once “detected” the person was asked to exit the vehicle to perform field sobriety tests. This is all based on the say-so of the officer. The officers had the discretion whether to order someone out of their car for sobriety testing. In Justin’s case, the officer admitted that he had passed the field tests — yet he was arrested anyway.
5. Field tests are not scientific
The theory behind “standardized field sobriety tests” are that they are to be given in a uniform manner, and compared with certain clues. The NHTSA guidelines clearly state that the tests are not valid for a morbidly obese person, like Jessie. Yet the officer arrested her, and she almost spent a week in jail, based on nothing. Her case was eventually dismissed.
6. DUIs are part of new prohibition agenda
It is true that all four defendants had consumed some alcohol or marijuana earlier in the day, but it was not clear that any of them were unable to drive safely. People were being yanked out of their car merely for having consumed alcohol earlier — not for being impaired. Keep in mind that the law requires that a person be “under the influence” but what was shown were arrests for merely “drinking and driving.”
7. Where are the lawyers?
This show did not present any legal commentary. It was not even clear if Jessie or Justin had any representation at all. Is it possible that they could not afford an attorney? Yes, especially after they probably went broke trying to bail themselves out of jail. I was left wondering why Justin’s or Jimmy’s cases weren’t challenged in court or why Jessie was so resigned to going to jail when in fact her case was so weak that the prosecutor declined to proceed.
Bonus thoughts: Differences between Illinois and Oklahoma
A. In Illinois, you can be prosecuted for a DUI based upon any amount of an illegal drug in your blood, regardless of impairment. Apparently this is not the case in Oklahoma, where Jessie apparently has a small amount of cannabis in her system, but below the threshold for a prosecution.
B. Illinois does not allow for bail bondsmen. Typically, in Illinois, if a person is charged with a misdemeanor DUI, the officer will set a “D” bond, which requires that the person put down 10% of the amount of the bond as a guarantee that he or she will come to court. Sometimes a person is lucky and the officer issues them an “I” bond (or “recognizance bond”), which requires no down payment. In a felony DUI case, a judge will set bond after a hearing held within 48 hours of the arrest.