Wrong Turn

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

I'm supposed to be reflective and apologetic and learning my lesson about the dangers of driving drunk. But, like most people charged with DWI, I'm too busy taking a crash course on outsmarting the cops to be contrite--bending their version of the truth to square with mine.


JULY 9, 2001

The state of Minnesota requires that every DWI offender go through a chemical evaluation to determine if there is a drug or alcohol addiction that needs addressing. The state is willing to provide the service, but I'm told that a county evaluator will be more prone to make you enter a costly treatment program than an independent assessor. I don't know if this is true or not, but I search for someone in the private sector and pay out of pocket.

I find someone who both works for Hennepin County and runs a private business out of his suburban home. On the drive there, I think about the senseless hangovers, the lost hours in bars, and the party conversations abandoned because I needed to get a fresh cocktail. Pulling into the driveway, I'm convinced the guy is going to send me to treatment. Still, I decide to be completely honest.

We sit down and discuss my drinking habits for an hour, beginning with the time I got busted for underage consumption at a buddy's basement beer bash. We talk about how I left booze alone for a couple years, then started drinking again my sophomore year in college. On his desk, I notice stacks of evaluations for relapsed heroin addicts. I open up further.

I tell him I drink four days out of the week, usually beer or wine, sometimes vodka. He seems to think this is a little much, but not out of line. He asks me if I have a good support system of friends and whether I get along with my parents. He also notes that my parents and sister aren't chemically dependent and that I have a full-time job. He tells me that he believes that I don't have any chemical problems. I'm relieved. (It is not lost on me, however, that I'm about to give the guy $150.)

At the end of his report, he types, "Client does not meet criteria for abuse/dependency." I want to believe him. "At least I'm not a relapsed heroin addict," I think to myself. I thank the guy a little too profusely and head home, trying to beat my 6:00 p.m. curfew.


AUGUST 2, 2001

I meet Rogosheske in a conference room at the top of the Ramsey County courthouse at 8:00 a.m. to go over the game plan for the hearing on my criminal charge. He tells me to consider testifying that, at the time of the arrest, Smith never gave me the chance to call an attorney. It's not true, and I tell him I won't do it. I call Budget Towing again, a last ditch effort to discredit the police report. Once again, they tell me they can't find the report.

We appear in Judge Margaret Marrinan's courtroom, in the Ramsey County Second Judicial District, at 9:15. Rogosheske has maintained all along that the Intoxilyzer 5000 at the St. Paul city jail is inaccurate. It's a flimsy defense, but I realize that blowing a .16 pretty much seals your fate. It's my fault there's not much else he can do. My attorney, the prosecution, and the judge all retire to her chambers.

Waiting in the courtroom, I suddenly don't trust Rogosheske. I also wish I had shined my shoes, had time to get my sport coat altered, and hadn't worn slacks with a mustard stain on the left thigh. In short, I feel vulnerable.

Rogosheske comes back to tell me a deal has been cut, and it's a pretty good one. It comes as a surprise, since I was ready to fight this thing tooth and nail. This is the first time there's been any talk of a deal. The maintenance records, the vision records--they are all for nothing. I will not testify. There will be no jury.

I stand up in front of Judge Marrinan. She seems far too kind, smiling at me and asking me politely if I understand all the charges against me. I'm not sure, but I lie. "Yes, your honor," I whisper. My attorney notes for the record that we will challenge the civil charge later (at the very least, I could get the license reinstatement fee back). Privately, though, I've already decided that I won't fight the revocation.

Judge Marrinan sentences me for two misdemeanor counts of driving with a blood-alcohol content more than .10. I get 60 days in the workhouse, which I don't have to do if I don't violate my one-year probation, and a $300 fine (plus another $40 for processing fees). I'm also required to complete a DWI education program and attend a Mothers Against Drunk Driving seminar. All things considered, it's a light sentence. But that doesn't dawn on me until later. I feel cheated.


LEGAL LESSON NUMBER THREE: SCARED STRAIGHT?

I've heard repeatedly that the tome containing the state's DWI laws is the thickest found at the Capitol--thicker than the tax code, heavier than the book on murder. Every year, state lawmakers haggle over at least one new piece of drunk-driving legislation.

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