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Legal Porn / February 16, 2010

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Most rational people believe that drinking and driving are wrong.  Most rational people believe that drinking and driving involve operating motor cars on public highways.  Most rational people have never dealt with a Maryland court.

One man, in Worcester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, learned that reason and Maryland courts don’t always go together.  The poor fellow had a few drinks, hopped on his all-terrain vehicle (ATV), and raced around his back yard well after midnight.  Being, as he said, “toasted”, he managed to wreck the machine, injuring his arm in the process.  Mirabile dictu, a Maryland policeman turned up, smelled alcohol, and arrested the once-happy reveler for driving under the influence.  Being opposed to a $200 fine plus $126 in court costs, he appealed his case.

Foolishly daring to entrust his case to the wisdom of a Maryland judge (and not a jury), the ATV pilot quoted the black letter law, asserting that the statute specifically said driving under the influence of alcohol was only possible on public highways or on private property used by the public (such as parking lots at shopping centers, public libraries, or sporting events).  The Maryland court had a different view: it interpreted the law as meaning drinking and driving were prohibited everywhere, including back yards because “no one can say when [an intoxicated person] … will leave a private road and pursue a mad, zigzagging course down a public highway or street, with the resulting damage and horrors so frequently reported.”  The toasted one was toast:  in addition to the fine and costs, he was now responsible for the unspecified but substantial costs of his unsuccessful appeal.

A female friend of mine, a sensible and sober social worker, observed on hearing this: “Following the judge’s ‘rationale’, if you’re in your living room, drunk, with your car keys in your pocket, there is absolutely no guarantee that you won’t leave your couch, hop in your car, and drive off.”  Therefore, she said, the court’s  “reasoning” dictated that you should be arrested for drunken driving while in your own home.

But then, under a strange interpretation of America’s jurisprudence, if you’re drunk, you are guilty until you are proven innocent.  And you bear the burden of proof!  If you are a young and attractive woman and happen to catch the eye of a policeman, you are in more trouble than you can imagine, even if you don’t live in Maryland.

One youthful, charming female, barely 5 feet tall and weighing not much over 100 pounds, was stopped by a policeman in a Delaware resort town for staggering a bit while walking back to her hotel room.  She objected to the stop and poked the 6-foot tall, 200 pound-plus gendarme with her finger.  While not really drunk and not at all disorderly, she was promptly arrested and spent the night in jail—for assaulting an officer of the law.  Though living in Washington, D.C., she had to personally appear in a Delaware courtroom where she was heavily fined and given a year’s probation.

Washington, D.C. does not deal well with similar situations, either. Although at least the city government and the police force were burned rather badly in print for it.

It happened like this: Two young, attractive women had dinner and drinks in a Georgetown restaurant and were driving home. On the way, the driver rolled through a stop sign.  Dennis Fair, the alcohol officer for the 2nd District, was lying in wait for just such an occurrence.  He got the driver, an alien, out of her car and administered “sobriety exercises”, some of which included language work as well as walking and then standing on one foot, in high-heeled shoes, on a brick sidewalk with a 45-degree slope.  She didn’t “pass”.  After she admitted to having wine with dinner, Fair told her that she couldn’t drink and drive. She was automatically guiltily.  He convinced her that she didn’t want to take the breathalyzer test.  Once she refused, she was arrested, handcuffed, and hauled off to a holding cell in the precinct house.  In court, because she refused to take the breathalyzer test, she was adjudged guilty of drinking and driving, her license was suspended for six months, and she was fined.

Over a year later, Fair pulled the same stunt on another good-looking young woman.  Unfortunately, this one had connections with The Washington Post newspaper.  For over a month, on nearly every day, Fair’s actions and the questionable actions of other D.C. policemen in alcohol-related cases were prominently featured in the Metro section of the paper.  Because of the unfavorable publicity, the city government quickly changed its definition of drunk driving, from having any alcohol whatsoever in someone’s blood to delineating “impaired driving” as being more than .05 blood alcohol content by volume but less than .08.  Drunk driving was then defined as being .08 or more blood alcohol content.

The media hype did not affect Officer Fair’s job with the police department, even though his attitude is widely known and, possibly, even deplored.  One Assistant District Attorney characterized him as a “hard ass”.  One attorney recounted the story of Officer Fair’s arresting an immigrant for fishing without a license in the city’s Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, a federal park.  The fellow, due to be inducted into the U.S. Army the next day, had asked a U.S. Park Policeman if he needed a license to go angling there.   Told “no”, he dropped a line in the water and caught 12 fish.  Dennis Fair turned up, found he didn’t have a license, and charged the immigrant with 12 counts of fishing without a permit.

J. Michael Springmann was a diplomat in the State Department’s Foreign Service, with postings to Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in Washington, D.C.  The published author of several articles on national security themes, he is now an attorney in private practice in the Washington, D.C. area.

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18 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. CapnMarvel  |  February 17th, 2010 at 5:33 am

    Oh cops. How delightful and endlessly entertaining are your inferiority complexes.

  • 2. KludgeHopper  |  February 17th, 2010 at 7:05 am

    “Most rational people believe that drinking and driving are wrong.” I don’t think that means what you think it does… Hint: “is”.

  • 3. Fatty Arbuckle  |  February 17th, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Thank gawd them coppers is lookin’ after us or we poor shitizens wouldn’t know how to behave.

    We gotta keep law in order in dis hear cuntry!

  • 4. Jon Ezell  |  February 17th, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Ridiculous! A friend of mine received a DUI and night in the drunk tank for sleeping in the passenger seat of her car while it was in park outside of a bar. Her engine was on, because it was winter, and she was waiting for her girlfriend to pay-out and drive her home. The arresting officer then informed the small crowd of concerned citizens that (1) she could’ve put the car in drive at any moment and gone on a “blood drive,” and (2) that, technically, being drunk inside your own car, with your car keys IN YOUR POCKET is enough to arrest you in Alabama. What the fuck, didn’t we give the world Hank Williams, Sr.?

  • 5. mr. mike  |  February 17th, 2010 at 9:52 am

    My sentences:

    Un-named Maryland judge, for warping the law, I sentence you under the warped laws of the USSR to six tenners (60 years) at hard labor in Siberia. You are a wrecker, and are lucky you are not to be shot on the spot.

    Officer Fair, you are to be sentenced to spend the rest of your life as a traffic cop in North Korea. I hope you like water and brown rice.

  • 6. proletariat  |  February 17th, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    And yet no one does anything about this, and it will therefore continue.

    The Western Left, where blogging is a revolution, and each post on one will read is a shot to the heart of the man.

    Keep up the good fight, kids! Just don’t ACTUALLY fight…that might end in trouble!

  • 7. peter  |  February 17th, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Excellent piece. It’s interesting to see how the court sytem work if you don’t pay USD 50,000 in fees to benefit from the whole “due process of law” thing.

    From my experience, only the rich can benefit from that, in their favor of course.

  • 8. ANYMOUSE  |  February 17th, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Sorry but I agree with the cops n this one. Drinking and driving should have zero tolerance. People should take a cab or find some other means of transport. Most of Europe is trending to this already and the US should follow.

  • 9. mr. mike  |  February 17th, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Normally, yes the harshness should be doled out to the drunk drivers but the guy in the story was farting around on an ATV in his backyard when he wrecked the thing and a cop came out and ticketed this Super Dave wannabe. It’s a load that the guy was a danger to the community, or that the doofus would be crazy enough to ride the ATV drunk down some road.

  • 10. Dudeman  |  February 18th, 2010 at 11:16 am

    I’m in total favor of this ruling.

    Americans wanted a police state.

    And now they’ve got it.

    So…whining about it is a bit hypocritical.

  • 11. ronald  |  February 18th, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    And the cops wonder why “nobody likes me”…

  • 12. rossiya  |  February 18th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    These states were property owned by the Vatican. The law they inherited is based upon fascism and the unenlightment. Any serf contesting authority is a heretic, especially if they are not Roman Catholic. Maryland and DC are a model of the future America, comprised only of Catholics and heretics destined for termination.

  • 13. Myf  |  February 18th, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    MADD is a cancer. They’ve shoved their neo prohibitionist shit down everyone’s throat and tighter regulations have not changed drunk driving fatilities at all, after drunk driving itself was made a crime.

    If local politics weren’t just builders manipulating officials for tax breaks and creating the sprawling dystopia with the infrastructure of a non francophone african country, people could simply ride the bus or the subway after a night of drinking. People outside of major cities simply cannot go to a bar without driving. Think of how absurd the concept of a “designated driver” is. A person who goes to the place where people drink but does not drink because there simply is no way to for them to get there without private cars.

    Any law passed that requires police discretion will be abused. Police abuse all their legal powers and manage to abuse powers they don’t possess, performing illegal searches with impunity since j drugs make every american judge into a hanging judge, overnight. With a justice system already rigged to convict regardless of guilt, and punish regardless of circumstance, we’re all fucked.

    Americans need to pass about 6 new amendments, severely limiting the power of police and federal agencies to create new crimes and charges out of thin air. To create ‘good’ jobs in this country, and to develop livable cities. Senators are all corrupt, judges are fickle and cannot be trusted, and police forgot that they exist to protect people and instead think of themselves as soldiers fighting a war on several concepts, concepts that happen to be made of regular americans. Let’s fix this damn country

  • 14. nickcan  |  February 18th, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    I could be arrested for drunk driving right now! Well, I’m sober at the moment, but I have a bottle of whiskey on the shelf. I could drink it and then go driving. I mean there is absolutely no guarantee that I wouldn’t. You better send a squad car!

  • 15. Czechnik  |  February 19th, 2010 at 10:30 am

    How about the drinking in public laws in the USA? If you are out having a bottle of wine with your loved one in a public park, you are officially a menace to society.

    In Europe, its called “having a romantic picnic.”

  • 16. Joe Blow  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I say punish the results not the mere existance of alcohol..

    the rate should be something like .12 and NOT .08. .08 is nothing.

    but also stupid people and blind people and angry people should be arrested when they drive.. and they should be thrown in jail!

  • 17. Mike  |  February 24th, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    “Dennis Fair turned up, found he didn’t have a license, and charged the immigrant with 12 counts of fishing without a permit.”
    Bravissimo! This guy should be applauded!
    As for gal who drove through the roadsign – well, maybe the policeman should leave her be – hopefully she would drive into some brickwall next – but on the other hand she could drive into some innocent bystander, too…

  • 18. A Constitutionalist  |  March 21st, 2010 at 1:44 am

    To;”ANYMOUSE | February 17th, 2010 at 4:24 pm”

    Did you actually read any of this?


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