Editors note: This column is the first in a series of advice columns provided by Student Legal Services.
You start at a friend’s house and have a beer. An hour later, you move with the party to a bar downtown. You order an appetizer and have another drink. The appetizer is served and your glass is empty. You order your third drink, finish the food, settle the tab, and fish your car keys out of your pocket.
Your first mistake: Pulling out keys instead of your cell phone. If you’re a female weighing 130 pounds, your blood or breath alcohol content (BAC) at this point is likely around .07 (grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or grams per 210 liters of breath). Driving in Colorado with a BAC of .05 could get you charged with DWAI – driving with ability impaired. Driving with a BAC of .08 will get you a DUI – driving under the influence. Both offenses carry serious consequences. You can count on paying between $800 to $3,500 in fines and costs alone, not including attorney’s fees and insurance consequences.
If convicted of a DUI, you’ll lose your driver’s license for one year. You could serve jail time of up to a year and you’ll be required to perform up to 96 hours of useful public service. There are higher penalties for a second offense.
Now let’s say you do pull out your cell phone to call for a ride. Michael Navey, co-owner of the Crown Pub, says that most customers, especially those in the student generation, want to do the right thing. “If everyone who wanted to get a cab could get a cab within a reasonable time, we wouldn’t have as big a problem as we have in this town,” he said. According to Navey, the typical wait to get a taxi during the peak hours of 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. is close to two hours. Patrons start trying to call friends to come get them or decide to drive anyway, Navey said. In some cases, customers choose to walk home, which carries its own dangers.
RamRide, a free ride home program operated by volunteers and sponsored by the Associated Students of CSU is available to help in this situation. It runs Thursdays 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Fridays and Saturdays 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. With its non-judgmental, no-questions-asked service, RamRide is an attractive option. Here, too, however, students report waits of one to two hours.
So let’s say it’s 2:30 a.m. and you’re not about to wait an hour or two for a ride.
You make your next mistake and start driving down the road. You deliberately concentrate on doing everything right, but then your mind starts drifting, which it is prone to do when you’re at this alcohol level. When you snap back to attention, you see flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. You pull over and a police officer begins to ask questions and make requests.
At this point you can’t afford to make any more mistakes. Here are the do’s and don’ts:
/ Be polite and respectful. Police officers have discretion in whether and what they charge, and your attitude toward the officer is considered by the District Attorney when offering any plea bargain.
/ Most importantly, BE QUIET. You absolutely have the right to remain silent and the right not to incriminate yourself.
/ Always provide license, registration and insurance proof when requested.
/ You must exit the vehicle when requested by the officer. (But if you suspect police impersonation, lock your doors and call police to confirm the officer is legitimate.)
/ If the officer writes you a ticket, you must sign it. Your signature acknowledges receipt, not guilt.
/ If you are arrested for DUI, you must take a blood test at the hospital or a breath test on the big machine at the police station; otherwise you lose your license for one year.
/ Do not complain, argue or try to talk your way out of the situation.
/ Do not answer questions. “Have you been drinking?” “How much?” Your answers to these questions will be used against you, and you are not required to answer, even though you will feel like you are. Tell the officer, “I’m sorry officer; I respectfully decline to answer any questions.”
/ Do not consent to a search of your vehicle. Say, “I’m sorry officer, but I do not consent.” (But DO NOT try to physically stop them.)
/ Do not agree to perform “roadside sobriety tests.” They are voluntary, even though it won’t seem like they are. These tests are designed for failure and cannot help you. Again say, “I’m sorry officer, but I respectfully decline.”
/ Do not take a portable breath test. Officers carry small breath machines with them. They are scientifically unreliable and will do you no good. They are not admissible as evidence, but they can work against you in arrest and charging decisions, in bail considerations and possibly in sentencing. Say, “I’m sorry officer, but I respectfully decline.”
The only safe alcohol level for driving is .00. Imagine killing someone. Last year, alcohol-related crashes caused 39 percent of total traffic fatalities.
Check out the many blood alcohol level calculators on the Internet and get an idea of your likely BAC under different scenarios. Perhaps your organizations can invest in a reliable breathalyzer you can use to test yourself in a safe setting.
In this town, you have to have a plan before you ever drink the first beer of the evening. Call your ride an hour or two ahead of when you’ll need it. Better yet, bring along a designated driver. And if you are stopped in your vehicle after drinking, remember, you have the right to remain silent.
This column is provided by Student Legal Services. It appears every other Wednesday in the Collegian. To learn more about the services offered by SLS or to make an appointment, visit their office in Lory Student Center Room 182 or their Web site at www.sls.colostate.edu.