We know that if we steal a car, pick a pocket, or stick-up a bank teller, life can instantly become very unpleasant. We also know that jaywalking and deliberate littering have legal as well as social consequences. But there are some laws that, even though we are aware of them, we could violate unintentionally. Consuming alcohol in excess of the legal limit for driving is one of those. I know.
It all began innocently enough. My friend was visiting from out of town, and after a day of shopping and sightseeing, we decided to head to Pismo Beach for the evening. At a charming, upscale restaurant, we each had a nice dinner and two glasses of wine. When we were getting into the car outside the restaurant, I noticed a Pismo Beach Police car drive by. As I was heading towards the freeway I noticed he was behind me. It’s never a good feeling to see a police car behind you, but, naively, I didn’t think he was after me. Clearly, I was wrong. I got on the freeway heading back to SLO and very shortly I saw the flashing lights in my rearview mirror and promptly pulled over. The officer said my wheels had touched the white line. He asked if I’d had anything to drink. I said I had, and he asked me where I’d been. I told him, although I knew that he knew the answer to that question since he’d seen me come out of the restaurant. He then asked me to get out of the car, which I did, and he administered field sobriety tests. “Field sobriety test” is a new term for me. During this process I’ve become familiar with many new terms: BAC, Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the One-Leg-Stand (OLS) Test, absorption phase, priorable, wet reckless, dry reckless, exhibition of speed, DMV officer, and hard suspension, to name a few.
Standing on gravel on the side of the 101 freeway at night, in my stocking feet, with the bright flashing lights and headlights of the police car blinding me, and the officer barking instructions at me, was unnerving and frightening to say the least. Cars speeding up the 101 were passing less than ten feet away and I could feel the whoosh of air as they flew by. I could feel my hands and whole body shaking, but not from the cold night air. Scared and intimidated, I was shaking from nerves. The officer had me stand on one foot, hands at my side, looking up, and count. I wobbled and had to put my toe down to steady myself. He also had me stare into his flashlight as he moved it from side to side. He told me he wanted me to take a Breathalyzer test and I could do it there on the road, or back at the police station. I really didn’t know what to do, and didn’t know what my rights were in this situation. I asked him about my options, but he just kept repeating his question: freeway or police station? Standing out there on the freeway was scary, so I chose the station. He then handcuffed me and put me in the back of the patrol car and took me to the Pismo Beach Police Station. After he breathalyzed me he said my BAC (blood alcohol content) was 0.10 percent. The legal limit is 0.08. Therefore, the handcuffs went back on, I was put into the patrol car for a second time and he drove me to the San Luis Obispo County Jail.
At the jail, I waited to be frisked and to hand over my coat and jewelry. The officers already had my purse and shoes. When it was my turn, I was told to stand on the blue line, turn around, face the wall, and place my hands above my head on the wall. A woman officer frisked me. She asked me numerous questions, including: Was I wearing contact lenses, did I have any prosthetic limbs, had I been hit on the head recently, did I have a drug addiction from which I might suffer withdrawals, and what color was my underwear? I admit, that last question surprised me. After I was frisked, they allowed me to copy any phone numbers I wanted out of my cell phone and someone handed me a pen. When I looked for paper, an officer told me I had to write on my arm, which I did.
I was then escorted to a cell where there were three women. According to what they told me, one was arrested for possession and use of crack cocaine, another was a Cal Poly student charged with being drunk in public, and the third was there for resisting arrest. I didn’t ask what she had been arrested for, but apparently “resisting” hadn’t been a successful strategy. I sat down on the block of concrete and took my place with them.
Jail is very noisy. I couldn’t see into most of the other cells, but I could hear screaming, yelling, swearing, pounding, someone throwing up, and one young man was singing loudly, and rather well. In my cell, the Cal Poly student was pounding on the glass, crying and screaming hysterically. This was upsetting the woman who was there for crack possession, and she was repeatedly shouting at the student to, “Shut the f--- up!” Being a mom, and having normal hearing, I tried to calm the girl down, and after several attempts she lay down on the concrete floor and went to sleep.
Eventually, an officer accompanied me to have my mug shot taken, and to be fingerprinted. At that point, around 11 p.m., he told me I could leave at 2 a.m. if I had someone to pick me up, which I did. Two o’clock came and went and no one released me, although my friend let them know she was there. At 3:30 a.m. they finally let me go. Someone told me the worst was over, but that definitely was not true. Very soon I realized that, in addition to being ensnared in the criminal justice system, I was a captive, paying customer of the DUI industry.
Sarah Pease is a pseudonym. Send comments to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org