Monthly Archives: July 2005

The Power of Faith

For those mad mothers out there worried that someone somewhere may be eluding justice, here’s a recent Kansas City news story about the power of faith….

Stan Willcutt is a 40-year-old construction worker with the ailments of a man twice his age. Bad ankles. Bad knees. A back so screwed-up that he recently threw out a disk just because he sneezed. Willcutt has been buried in ditches during two construction accidents. He’s been dropped on his head, leaving one eye permanently wacky. And lord knows what happened to his teeth, because he doesn’t have any upper choppers, which makes his speech sort of slurred.

Still, he’s got to make a living, so he continues to work in heavy construction, digging sewers, but he goes to a chiropractor a couple of times a week to have his back worked on. On April 7, he was returning from one of those appointments, driving down Douglas Street, when he felt a sneeze coming on. He tensed up his back, preparing for the damage that might be imminent, and then let go a big kerchoo.

The force of it wasn’t enough to throw out his back, but it was so painful that he swerved his car, and his front-left tire clipped the center median. After correcting his car, Willcutt realized that his collision with the curb had caused a flat tire. So he pulled over, jacked up the car and started to put on the spare. That’s when Lee’s Summit police showed up.

Officers told Willcutt that they’d received a report of a drunk driver who had swerved and hit the street’s median. Willcutt explained what had happened and said he hadn’t had a drink all day. In fact, Willcutt says, after he was popped for a DUI 20 years ago, he stopped drinking entirely.

Willcutt told police he’d ingested neither alcohol nor drugs, but the officers asked him to take a field sobriety test anyway. Willcutt says he told the officers that, with his bad knees and back, there’d be no way he could stand steadily on one foot or walk in a tight, straight line. And just as Willcutt predicted, according to officer Matthew Miller’s report, Willcutt performed poorly on the test — and displayed slurred speech.

At that point, Willcutt could see that his explanations were having no effect on the police officers, so he requested a breathalyzer test. His police report indicates exactly what he predicted it would: His blood-alcohol content measured 0.00 percent. Still, the officers arrested Willcutt and took him to jail, where he gave a urine sample.

The sample was tested for amphetamines. The result was negative. It was tested for barbiturates. Also negative. Benzodiazepines. Negative. Cannabinoids. Negative. Cocaine. Negative. Ethanol. Negative. Methadone. Negative. Opiates. Negative. Phencyclidine. Negative. Propoxyphene. Negative….

(But) if there’s one thing Lee’s Summit city prosecutor Rachel Brown has faith in, it’s that her office will get its man. Brown has so much faith in the Lee’s Summit police, she says that a 0.00 breathalyzer and a negative urine test aren’t going to keep her from prosecuting Willcutt — who, with his ancient prior, could be looking at a real penalty. Now that’s faith in your police force.

(Thanks to Jay Norton of Olathe, Kansas.)

The 100 DUI Club (cont’d)

Another recent example of motivating officers to make more DUI arrests (valid or otherwise), this from a Placer County (California) Sheriff's news bulletin:

Four Placer County Sheriffs received awards from Mothers Against Drunk Driving at the organization's annual statewide awards ceremony on April 9 at the Grand Sheraton in Sacramento. Last month, the local MADD chapter recognized the same deputies at a luncheon in Sacramento. The four deputies, Glen McNama, James Concannon, Robert Griggs and Douglas Bostian accounted for more than 120 arrests in 2004. McNama is a five-time winner. Griggs accounted for 10 percent of the sheriff's department total DUI arrests.

Again, no requirement of convictions — just arrests. These awards are career-boosters, of course, but making lots of DUI arrests can also be very lucrative: since most arrests are made on the evening shifts, officers usually get overtime pay to appear in court during the day to testify. Note: good arrests usually result in guilty pleas, not requiring the officer's presence in court; bad arrests more often go to trial — resulting in more overtime pay. So….

The 100 DUI Club

My last post was about the financial incentives for making more DUI arrests. The following recent (July 13) news story reflects the career benefits:

County Sheriff’s Deputy Inducted into DUI Club

A Neshoba County sheriff’s deputy has been inducted into the Mississippi 100 DUI Club. Deputy Sheriff Vince Carter was recognized along with 37 other officers across the state at a luncheon sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety in Jackson

The officers were honored for writing 100 DUI citations or more during 2004

A Louisville native, Carter has been employed at the sheriff’s office for about six years where he has written more than 700 DUI citations.

This is the second time he has received the statewide induction

"It’s a great feeling to know that I’ve been inducted twice into the club," Carter said.

I guess I’d feel better about this story if the standard wasn’t 100 citations, but rather 100 convictions……

How to Make a Million in the DUI Business

In past posts, I’ve commented upon the increasing profits made by government and industry from the escalating "war on DUI" (see, for example, "DUI Roadblocks for Fun and Profit" and "DUI Ignition Interlocks: Dangerous but Profitable"). These profits call into question the underlying reasons for the allocation of police resources and the fairness of penalties imposed for this offense. Consider a news story appearing yesterday:

Albuquerque Makes a Million from DUI

Drunk-driving is generating a million a year in profit for the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Drunk driving does not pay in Albuquerque, New Mexico — unless you’re the city treasurer. Last year, Albuquerque generated a million dollars in profit from its drunk driving enforcement program, doubling the take from 2003.

New Mexico DWI penalties are stiff. A driver caught for the first time with a .08 blood alcohol level must pay a $500 fine. But that’s just the beginning. The crime also carries a six-month license revocation where the offender can only legally drive a vehicle that has an ignition interlock installed. This device is designed to allow only a sober individual to operate the car.

That’s where the fees kick in. The interlock runs $960 per year and there’s a $45 "interlock fee." That, plus a $100 license fee, a $65 crime lab fee, a $75 community fee, a $200 alcohol screening fee, a $20 corrections fee. All this adds up to $1615 in extra fees combined with the fine for a total of $2115, a number which does not include the cost of increased insurance, treatment, lost wages, towing and storage, court costs and attorney fees.

The city hits the jackpot with anyone foolish enough to become a repeat offender, where the direct fines rise as high as $5000 and the city confiscates and sells the offender’s automobile. Apparently, repeat offenders are not rare. In 2003, Albuquerque seized an average of 125 vehicles every month. It auctioned between 40 and 50 cars monthly, returning only 40 a month to innocent owners.

(Thanks to Richard Diamond.)

Can You Change the Breath Test Results by How You Breathe?

As I’ve indicated in earlier posts, breath machines which largely determine guilt or innocence in DUI cases are far from the reliable devices that law enforcement would have us believe. One of many examples of that unreliability is the fact that the results will vary depending upon the breathing pattern of the person being tested.

This has been confirmed in a number of scientific studies. In one, for example, a group of men drank moderate doses of alcohol and their blood-alcohol levels were then measured by gas chromatographic analysis of their breath. The breathing techniques were then varied.

The results indicated that holding your breath for 30 seconds before exhaling increased the blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) by 15.7%. Hyperventilating for 20 seconds immediately before the analyses of breath, on the other hand, decreased the blood-alcohol level by 10.6%. Keeping the mouth closed for five minutes and using shallow nasal breathing resulted in increasing the BAC by 7.3%, and testing after a slow, 20-second exhalation increased levels by 2%. “How Breathing Techniques Can Influence the Results of Breath-Alcohol Analyses”, 22(4) Medical Science and the Law 275. For another study with similar findings, see “Accurate Measurement of Blood Alcohol Concentration with Isothermal Breathing”, 51(1) Journal of Studies on Alcohol 6.

Dr. Michael Hlastala, Professor of Physiology, Biophysics and Medicine at the University of Washington Medical School has gone farther and concluded:

By far, the most overlooked error in breath testing for alcohol is the pattern of breathing….The concentration of alcohol changes considerably during the breath…The first part of the breath, after discarding the dead space, has an alcohol concentration much lower than the equivalent BAC. Whereas, the last part of the breath has an alcohol concentration that is much higher than the equivalent BAC. The last part of the breath can be over 50% above the alcohol level….Thus, a breath tester reading of 0.14% taken from the last part of the breath may indicate that the blood level is only 0.09%.” 9(6) The Champion 16 (1985).

Many police officers know this. They also know that if the test result contradicts their judgement that the person they arrested is intoxicated, it won’t look good. So when they tell the arrestee to blow into the machine’s mouthpiece, they yell at him, “Keep breathing! Breathe harder! Harder!” As Professor Hlastala has found, this ensures that the breath captured by the machine will be from the bottom of the lungs, near the alveolar sacs — where the air is richest in alcohol. With the higher alcohol concentration, the machine will give a much higher — but inaccurate — reading.