Posted by: zycos | March 20, 2009

Guilty or not. You still get arrested!

I was watching one of those quasi-courtroom television shows today. You know the ones where both sides forgo an official court proceeding in favor of binding arbitration and a chance to be on TV.

Judge Judy being the most notable (and notorious) of the robed judges can set aside all proper courtroom procedure and cast personal opinion on litigants lifestyles, almost in prejudgment. Many times I’d hate to find myself in her studio courtroom. Btw, it’s reported she earns a cool $45 million a year for her TV judge role.

Today there was a middle aged woman who lost her drivers license for 7 months because after being stopped by a police officer and proclaiming her sobriety, refused to take a field breathalyzer test.

Upon her refusal, the officer arrested her and took her into custody.

In court her case of DUI was dismissed (presumably for lack of evidence) but the judge suspended her driving privileges anyway.

Seven months in a mobile society without personal mobility. Depending on others to get back and forth to work, get groceries and so on. Seven long, hard months.
I thought to myself how odd this all seemed. In my case, I’ve never drank anything containing alcohol. Never, not even sip a beer. Not as a small child, teenager or adult. It’s not that I’m super religious or anything but I simply chose not to imbibe and have seen no reason to rescind that choice over the years.

I wondered how I would fare in a similar situation as I too, would refuse a breathalyzer test. Not because I had anything to hide but simply on principle. Absent any direct, obviating proof otherwise, my word should be good enough. I shouldn’t be forced to clear myself by incriminating myself. And like this woman, I would probably find myself before a judge and ultimately, have my drivers license suspended.

There are many conditions that could be reason before suspicion of DUI. Perhaps I was on new medication, or tired or simply preoccupied with something else, momentarily crossing a line or lane marking. Some are even citable offenses but do not necessarily presume or indicate DUI.

And that’s my real issue. Our legal system today has become so twisted and inequitable in so many different areas it bears little resemblance to the system I grew up with. A very simple but protective presumption: A person was presumed innocent until proven guilty. In fact that was the one basic tenet that distinguished the USA from other countries. Our innocence was first assured until it could be proven we had actually committed a crime.

Today, we are guilty until proven innocent. And the burden of that innocence falls upon our shoulders and in most cases, our limited purses.

The prosecuting attorney, armed with deep pockets and hired guns wanting to make a name for themselves are no match for the lone individual, unfamiliar with the way today’s court systems work, has to defend him or herself against unfounded accusations.

To be considered guilty because you refuse to take a breathalyser test when you know you’re not drunk is tantamount to suspicion of being a terrorist because you have no national identity card. All bullshit. It is also I contend, a violation of our fifth amendment right. Protection of self-incrimination. Drunk driving is a crime, a felony in most jurisdictions. To consent to a breathalyzer test is a form of self incrimination without proper legal representation.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am totally against driving while drunk or incapacitated in any manner. To not be would be insane. My family is out there, too. To lose a loved one to someone so irresponsible as to make the decision to drive under the influence, would be impossible for me to reconcile. Especially if that same person had prior DUI convictions or served time with only a slap on the wrist. In fact, the real efforts should be at putting teeth into the existing DUI laws but since many politicians are drinkers themselves, they fear getting caught up in their own too-tough laws. I’m for mandatory imprisonment even for first-time offenders because it IS a conscious decision to drink and then drive.

But to consider anyone guilty of DUI without proof, is going too far. We can’t solve all the world’s ills by arresting anyone who might commit a crime. Too, we shouldn’t arrest anyone where absolute proof is absent.

The battery of coordination tests administered a suspected DUI driver along with the probable cause he/she was pulled over, should prove sufficient in determining whether an arrest is warranted. Passing all field coordination tests but refusing a sobriety test should not be the sole determining factor in making an arrest.

And DUI checkpoints should be limited by law to only a visual assessment of the driver and absent any witnessed improper driving, not extend to license status, insurance coverage, search and seizure or any other myriad of situations. Nazi Germany had checkpoints where a person’s paperwork had to “all in order” at each inspection or they would be detained, some never heard from again. Have we as a once free nation, exhausted all resources to have similar checkpoints randomly set up across our great land…all under the guise of a DUI checkpoint? At least the Nazis didn’t mince words over what their intentions were.

What do you think?

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