By Attorney PHILIP J. DABNEY
Reid Griffith Law Firm
The holiday season brings many causes for celebration. Celebration often includes partaking in alcohol. While most will drink responsibly, even light drinkers need to take all possible measures to avoid operating a vehicle after drinking.
When my Grandpa Dabney was young, he got drunk one night and drove his car into a tree. He wrecked the car but somehow avoided injury or arrest. Being a smart man, though, he realized the dangers of drinking and drivIng. So he quit driving. Permanently. Seriously!
I’m not advocating such drastic action. However, whenever you drink any amount of alcohol, your safe bet is to not drive. Get a ride. Stay the night. Walk home and get the car in 24 hours. Make plans ahead of time, like using a designated driver or cab/limoUber service. Drunk driving is a serious offense in the eyes of the law. You might think you are OK to drive, but the officer who pulls you over will have the final say.
Driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher means an automatic charge for DWI. Even if your BAC is lower, or if you refuse to consent to a breathalyzer test, you still could be charged and convicted of DWI under the law, if an officer reasonably believes you are intoxicated.
If you are arrested and charged with DWI, expect a long, expensive and embarrassing ordeal. Your picture (while intoxicated) will be published in the local police blotters, along with a description of the event from the police report. Your chances of avoiding conviction are very slim. You will have your license revoked, likely by both the Court and the Motor Vehicle Division. You will have to take a DWI and victim impact class. You likely will be required to undergo an alcohol assessment and follow additional recommendations if you drink excessively.
After you bail out and plead not guilty, you probably will be required to visit the local probation officer weekly until your case is tried or negotiated. Your release conditions will include: no drinking, no access to firearms, travel restrictions, no new illegal activity or police contact. You could be randomly tested for the presence of alcohol. If you get caught violating the no drinking rule, you will go back to jail. In other words you are treated like a criminal. Oh, and if you had any minor children in the car when you were arrested, you could face a felony child endangerment charge.
Besides the legal reasons not to drink and drive, there are practical aspects. Our mountain community has challenging driving conditions even when drivers are sober. You are far more likely to cause an accident if you are intoxicated. Imagine how you would feel if you hurt someone. Additionally, you will spend thousands of dollars dealing with the charge. There are fines, attorney fees, court costs and the costs for bail, and the costs for satisfying the court requirements. Add another $1,200-$1,500 or more for the cost of getting an interlock device installed in your car so you can drive. That’s the thing that you have to blow into before starting the vehicle, to prove you haven’t been drinking. And your insurance rates will substantially increase.
Once you have a conviction for DWI in this state, your next offense will be considered much more serious, no matter how far in the future it happens. A third offense could be charged as a felony. Any DWI offense involving an accident with injury and death could get you convicted of a felony and time in prison. If you have any kind of clearance, you will have to report the details and deal with the consequences at work as well.
DWI conviction and plea bargains under Los Alamos County ordinances carry mandatory jail time or house arrest. The minimum is three days for a regular DWI, and five days for aggravated DWI, which is typically when you BAC is .16 or higher. Suffice it to say the county has a strong dislike of drunk driving.
If you get pulled over for suspected drunk driving, you will be asked to perform sobriety tests. You can refuse to perform them. However, You cannot refuse to have your blood alcohol tested without serious consequences. You likely will be charged with aggravated DWI, and your license will automatically be revoked for at least a year. The BAC test is not needed to convict you. It just makes the conviction easier due to the standardized and reliable breathalyzer testing methods now used.
If you do not agree with the breathalyzer test results, you can request a blood test, which is done at the hospital. This information will be read to you by the arresting officer.
One last bit of advice. Let’s say you “tie one on” at the office Christmas party. You responsibly spend the night at the hotel down the street. When you get up the next morning with a hangover, you do not want to jump in that car and drive home! There is a strong chance the alcohol still in your system exceeds the legal limit of .08. Your best bet is to not drive for at least 24 hours after a bout of heavy drinking.
You can still have fun and enjoy many celebrations over the holiday season and beyond. Just do it all without driving and you will avoid ruining your good times.