Wrong Turn

Think you can get away with drinking and driving? So did I.


MARCH 22, 2001

It's midday, and I drive out to my parents' house. When I was arrested, my folks were on vacation in Florida. Not wanting to ruin their trip, I didn't tell them about my DWI. I have to come clean with my father now, though: a far worse punishment than anything the legal system could dole out.

The longer we visit, the longer I stall, and the worse I feel. It's one of those moments between a father and son that, as we get older, has become increasingly rare. We're chatting and joking like a couple of old pals. He starts talking about how he wants to pay to get a dent on my car fixed. I break down.

"I'm sorry," I say, by way of beginning my confession. "I know I've let you down." His face flushes when I tell him the details of my arrest, then he sits in silence. Finally, he puts his arms around me. "It's okay, boy," he whispers. "We'll get through it."


MARCH 27, 2001

Owing to my infantile anxiety concerning the Driver and Vehicle Services, my temporary, seven-day license has expired. I get a ride out to Plymouth and get in line. A few hours later, I take the computerized test. All of the questions concern limits on alcohol consumption, levels of punishment, and drinking habits (Alcohol is: a) a depressant b) a stimulant c) neither d) fun and can be either, depending on who is drinking).

I then go to the license evaluator, a kindly old gentleman from the Department of Motor Vehicles who will give me a temporary "limited license" so I can drive to work and back. I explain to the evaluator that I'm a reporter and need to be able to drive as much as possible. He grants me my driving privileges from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday though Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Sunday will be a day of rest. He also encourages me to "just plead guilty, give 'em your money, and get on with your life."


MARCH 29, 2001

I pay a visit to Paul Rogosheske, an attorney who specializes in DWI cases in Washington, Dakota, and Ramsey counties. Since being arrested, I have received countless letters from ambulance chasers. This guy isn't one of them. I've checked him out with other lawyers and judges I know, and he comes highly recommended. In short, he knows how to work the system.

After we sit down in his office, Rogosheske goes off on drunk-driving lobbyists, whom he considers to be a pseudo-moralistic, money-making lot. When he hears that my intoxication level was .16, he voices concern. Usually, he can get DWIs under .13 reduced to "careless driving" by arguing that the blood alcohol could have been under .10. But when the count is as high as mine was, it's hard to prove that the breath test was faulty. After I tell him the details of my arrest, though, he's convinced we can challenge the revocation in front of a judge and get both the civil and criminal charges thrown out.

This sounds good, but it makes me queasy. I have suffered plenty of shame, but more importantly, I've been thinking a lot about the arrogance and false sense of invincibility that landed me in this mess. I can't help thinking, in a broader sense, that I've done something that tears at our social fabric. And, painful as it is, I have come to accept that I can't (and maybe shouldn't) sweet-talk my way out of having to pay.

After listening to Rogosheske, however, my own survival instincts start to kick in. Sure, I've made a mistake, but is it really something that should follow me around for the next 10 years (when I can get the DWI wiped off my record)? Suddenly I feel like fighting it. Despite a few remaining pangs of guilt, I sign him up to the tune of $2,000.


LEGAL LESSON NUMBER TWO: HOW TO CHEAT THE SYSTEM

By the end of April, Rogosheske secures a copy of Officer Smith's police report and mails it to me. I've been told these things are usually great works of fiction, so I eagerly rip open the envelope.

I'd gone over that evening in my head time and again, but the report has an air of authority that is crushing. Much of Smith's account jibes with mine, which makes it seem all the more credible. Still, there are inaccuracies: Smith writes that I was going 75 mph (I'm reasonably sure I was going 50 mph); that I didn't signal a lane change (I did); and that I blew a .16, not a .12, on the side of the road.

"Good people are often shocked that cops are like everyone else with bad memories and are prone to exaggeration," says former public defender McDonough. "They are not neutral objective fact finders, and they want to win as bad as I do. Ninety percent of all police reports say the motorist had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and fumbled through his wallet."

I consult with my attorney, and we find a couple of loopholes. I insist that the report has me pulled over at the wrong location. Rogosheske encourages me to get the records from St. Paul's Budget Towing in order to disprove the officer's account. Smith gave me a vision test without my glasses. I get a letter from my eye doctor explaining that, without my glasses, I would fail any sort of vision test--drunk or sober. Despite all of this, Rogosheske is cautious: "It's your word against his."

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