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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