Ask a Cop

Illustration: Steve Thueson

Dear Cop,
Being a hairstylist, it is important you establish great conversation with your clients. One day I was discussing the topic of breathalyzers and DUI’s with a bar owner while I was cutting his hair. He became very passionate about this topic and began discussing how most devices that measure BAC (blood alcohol content) are very inaccurate. It appears that many devices may be affected by the environment, bugs in their system, calibration and human error. As the cost of a driving under the influence is often ten thousand dollars or more the stress of an accurate result is very important financially — nobody wants a criminal record either. How is it possible to obtain an accurate reading on a breathalyzer or a preliminary breath tester with all of the errors that can be factored in?
–Sober Stylist

Dear SS:
Just think: If it had been a cop in the chair getting a haircut instead, you would have had to listen to his bitching and moaning about the DUI perp he handled who killed a little kid. Thank GOD all that bar owner has to worry about is inaccurate breathalyzers. What a horrible dilemma. God forbid, in this day and age, that he had to worry about something like, “Hmm … How am I going to get all my patrons to get a designated driver or cab ride home, even if they only had one drink?” I wonder if that wringer keeps ol’ bar owner up at night? I guarantee the cop’s dilemmas cause sleepless nights.

Is it realistic to expect that everyone who imbibes is going to get someone to drive him home? No, and it’s also not legal or reasonable to assume that they’re drunk just because they left your client’s bar. When asked, 90 percent of DUI-stopped drivers say they’ve had two beers. Understand that the breathalyzer machine, aka “the box,” is only a small portion of a DUI conviction in court. Cops are allowed, with reasonable suspicion, to stop motorists. If someone had just one drink, the cop is going to smell it. Word! I don’t care how much gum, mints, gasoline, whatever they’ve used—he’ll smell it. Only drunks don’t think they smell. It’s kind of like potheads or smokers thinking they don’t stink.

Luckily for people who imbibe and drive, there are checks to make sure they’re criminally drunk: field sobriety tests (FST) and portable breathalyzer tests (PBT). You know, just to make sure the DUI suspect really did have more than “two beers.” However, all these checks can do is provide probable cause for an arrest, not conviction. No, the PBT is not scientific enough, but coupled with a driving pattern and FSTs, it’s enough to make an arrest. After an arrest is when the DUI suspect blows into the box. I won’t bore you with the data—you can Google that—but as long as the Baker rule is observed, it’s accurate and ACCEPTED IN COURT. This is why I find your bar owner’s mentality ridiculous. Know this: DUI convictions occur all the time, even without the box, when someone refuses to blow. And, thanks to all the liberals demanding that cops be wired surveillance platforms—there’s usually a pretty good video as evidence. Don’t you think if something was as “inaccurate” as your client claims, the courts would have disregarded it long ago?

Sorry, stylist—there are too many deaths in my memory to be concerned with your bar owner’s breathalyzer rants. It’s offensive that he’d even worry about it. That’s a defense lawyer’s job, not a bar owner’s.

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