Wednesday of this week I was pulled over by a police officer on patrol. The incident is illustrative of how absolutely easy it is for someone to get arrested for a DWI.
Here is how it happened...
I worked late Wednesday night meeting with a client and started on my way home. I stopped before arriving home and had something quick to eat around 8pm. It should be noted that I had absolutely nothing to drink outside of a Coca-Cola.
I had been having trouble having an officer accept service on a subpoena for an ALR hearing for one of my clients. My process server had been given the run-around by the officer multiple times and he was clearly trying to avoid being served. At one point he told my process server to meet him at the station where he worked, but then refused to come out once he was there. While this is not common among police officers, it sometimes happens. Since the officer refused to come out from behind the counter to accept service, his supervisor signed the subpoena for him. My process server put "refused to sign"where his signature is supposed to be.
DPS indicated that there was a minor problem with the subpoena with some required language that needed to be included. I was instructed to amend the subpoena and send it certified mail to the officer. Because I wanted to comply and do everything possible to ensure the subpoena would be accepted because I have a strong suspicion the officer does not plan to attend the ALR hearing (thus meaning my client will retain his driving license privileges), I went to the station myself to personally deliver the subpoena to the officer. I went during the day, and was told he was not there, but to come back at 10pm that night when he started his shift.
At 9:30pm I began driving with the subpoena in an attempt to deliver it to the officer. To get to where it is located I had to drive through downtown Dallas. As I was doing so, I had to drive down a few streets with very low lighting. At some point or another, I turned my high beams on. I’m not sure when.
As I turned and entered one of the streets in downtown Dallas, I came across a large Greyhound bus parked in an outside lane letting passengers on and off. Behind the bus a police patrol car was parked where the officer was clearly inputting something on his in-dash computer. Because the lane was blocked, I simply rerouted, used my turn signal, and began driving in the inside lane to avoid waiting for them to move.
I could see the officer pull out immediately as I was driving by and I knew even before his lights came on that I was going to be pulled over. At the time I didn’t know why, however. My fiancee, Annie, was in the car with me and was holding my iPad with a map to where the police station was located. I was glancing down at the map while driving to look at directions. Honestly, I figured I was being pulled over for "texting while driving." My brother told me recently he just got at a ticket in Houston for "texting while driving" and I assumed I was being pulled over for the same.
The events that follow are entirely true, and not in anyway contrived because of my personal interest in this encounter and how it proceeded.
The first words out of the officers mouth were, "sir, how much have YOU been drinking tonight?" I was stunned. I looked at Annie, I looked back at the officer, and I replied "none." I was still in my suit from being in court all day, with my tie a bit loosened. I’m sure I looked tired, as it had been a long day. I had been to two different courts in separate counties and had been working continuously since that morning. I’m sure my suit might have been bit a bit crumpled. I recently had elective vision correction surgery, and my eyes since have been continually bloodshot in recovery. From experience, I was sure he would take these factors standing alone to be signs of intoxication. From his perspective, I’m sure I looked like a businessman who had been at a happy hour with co-workers, probably having dinner afterwards where I had continued drinking. This was far from the case.
After I told him I had not been drinking, he squinted his eyes at me scrutinizing my response for any hint of intoxication. He asked for my driver’s license and insurance, while simultaneously asking me where I was coming from. I knew this to be the "divided-attention" test, where he tries to see how I react to his request and my ability to multi-task in getting my information to him. I simply replied I was going home and I gave him my driver’s license and insurance. At this point he still had not told me why I had been pulled over, and I was actually beginning to wonder when he would tell me what the reason was.
After telling him I was coming from my house, he made a very contrived laugh like what I was saying was absolutely crazy. He knew given my location that I was far from where I lived. He pointed out how far I was from where I lived, and he asked if I was lost. I surmised he thought I was lying by telling him where I was coming from, as he obviously assumed I was either coming from a bar or restaurant where I had been drinking. I swore to him that I was coming from my house and that what I was saying was the truth. At this point he started to become frustrated. Stonewalled, he looked at me like a stern professor trying to ascertain whether a student had been caught cheating on a test.
He looked at my driver’s license and my insurance with his flashlight, and then questioned me a second time, "exactly how much have you had to drink tonight, sir?" Without answering because I almost thought this was a joke, I looked at Annie to see if she was as surprised as I was. Again, I replied "none." At this point the officer was leaning almost inside of my car through the window. While odd, I could tell he was clearly doing this to try and ascertain whether he could detect any odor of alcohol in my breath when I answered his question. After again telling him that I had not been drinking, he pursed his lips and furrowed his brow in frustrated disgust. I knew he was hoping I would change my answer to catch me in a lie.
He waited for a few seconds to see if my answer would change, and when it did not, he asked me if I had ever been arrested for anything in the past. I knew he wanted to know if I had been ever arrested for DWI before. Literally before I could his question, he was walking back to his patrol car to run my criminal history though his computer. After a few minutes, he came back to my car and returned my license and insurance. After he did so, he held both items in his hand before letting go of them, and asked me a final time, "are YOU SURE you’ve had NOTHING to drink tonight?" I was floored.
At this point the officer looked like a 3-year old child in a candy store that had just been told by his parents that he couldn’t have his favorite piece of candy. He looked frustrated and disheartened, and it appeared he wanted to make one final attempt to obtain his favorite piece of candy despite repeatedly being told he couldn’t. He was making one last plea in hopes that he would get the answer he wanted. I again replied "no, officer, I am sorry."
He then let go of my driver’s license and insurance, but was clearly upset by his inability to catch me in a lie of some sort. He then made a comment, almost more to himself than to me, muttering in an incredulous tone, "I could’ve sworn you had SOMETHING to drink tonight." He looked completely befuddled at how he could be so wrong. I then replied, "I am sorry to disappoint you officer, but I assure you that I have not."
He then started to proceed back to his patrol car. Only then did I finally ask what he pulled me over for. He told me that I had my high beams on. I had totally forgotten that they were on, as the street that I was driving on was very well lit and it was not discernible to me (or to Annie) that my brights had been on.
I then told the officer my intention of trying to find the police substation to serve a police officer with a subpoena because I was having trouble doing so. He scoffed at my remark, stating how "we don’t play that game here in Dallas. We always sign our subpoenas." I assured him that was not the case for my particular situation, and his eyes lit up like I had deeply offended his integrity. He even then offered to personally follow me to the station to assist me with serving the subpoena on the officer. I thanked him, but told him that wouldn’t be necessary.
As I was leaving I was pretty shocked at the events that transpired. I have been representing individuals for DWI charges in counties all around Texas since being first being licensed to practice law. I’ve told people countless times just how easy it is for someone to be arrested for DWI. Most who haven’t been through the process do not believe me (those who have usually are very well aware).
I remarked to Annie as we were driving off how I was 110% sure that if I would have had ANYTHING to drink that night, even one beer a couple of hours before, I am positive I would have been placed under arrest and I would have currently been on my way to jail. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is what would have happened.
The officer at no point was concerned with any traffic violation that I had committed. His only point of focus was whether I had been drinking. From his very first question it was abundantly clear that there was only one thing on his mind: making a DWI arrest. From his first question to his last, it was clear that was his ONLY focus. Had it not been, he wouldn’t have been as dejected as he was at the end of our encounter in muttering to himself, "I could’ve sworn you had SOMETHING to drink tonight."
The moral of the story is this. People do not think they will arrested for DWI until they are charged with one. Almost all of my clients are shocked when it happens to them. Invariably people always ask me at parties, etc. what they should do if they are ever pulled over. I have told countless people how easy it is for a police officer to make a DWI arrest. In my case, the officer observed factors that were completely unrelated to alcohol consumption. He saw bloodshot eyes, a person driving in an unfamiliar part of the city, a driver with high beams on, and slightly rumpled clothing...and in his mind he had already made the decision based on his initial observation that I had been drinking and that an investigation was warranted.
I am also not too proud to say that for some reason I was nervous during the entire encounter. I remember my heart beating rapidly during his questioning, and I’m sure I appeared nervous. Even though I am very aware of my rights, and stress them to people all the time, I know I still appeared a bit uncomfortable. Again, had I been drinking, the officer would have assuredly associated this with alcohol consumption.
Please remember in the future...
DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK! But if you are pulled over and find that you are under suspicion for DWI, say as little as possible. Be polite...AND...REFUSE ALL FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS...AND...REFUSE ALL CHEMICAL TESTS!
And, most importantly, call me at 214.702.CARL(2275) or 469.2000.DWI(394)!!!