Why Do Cops Let People Drive Drunk?

You know how drunk drivers are a danger?  They cause accidents?  You know how they kill people?  You know how we can’t tolerate having impaired drivers on the road?  You know how we are so gung-ho on punishing DUI that we won’t even tolerate a drunk driver pulling off the road to “sleep it off”?

Maybe none of that is true. Maybe it’s ok to let a drunk drive for a little bit. Or maybe keeping drunks off the road isn’t really as important as letting drunks on the road so we can then take them off the road and look like we’re doing some sort of good work.  I don’t know.

I do know that last week I was watching a hearing on a DUI case up in good, old Woodstock, Illinois, McHenry County, U.S.A.  From what I gathered (I missed a part), a cop was outside a bar late one night watching patrons as they leave. Nothing illegal about that- it seems that that’s the sort of place drunk drivers might be coming from.  Good policing there.

Our hero watched a man leave the bar and cross the street. Apparently the man stumbled or fell… his movement was so obviously impaired by what was likely alcohol that the officer moved his car around to get a better view of where the guy was going.  From the second spot, the officer watched the man get in the car and start it all up.

Then the officer did exactly what you’d expect him to do… Nothing.  Once the man started the car and drove away, the officer followed.  Of course, the man who couldn’t walk couldn’t drive either and, after watching him swerve all over the road the officer pulled him over and ended up arresting him for DUI.

Good police work you say?  I don’t know.

Can’t a drunk driver kill somebody in a blink of an eye? Isn’t no distance the acceptable distance for an impaired driver to drive?  Or, is there some magic rule that a drunk driver can’t plow into an innocent family as long as a cop is watching?  Shouldn’t DUI prevention actually mean prevention regardless of who is watching?  Safety is safety, right?

I know what you’re saying- this is America and a cop can’t tell the dude he’s not allowed to drive.  I agree with that. But, this is also America and a cop can walk up to a drunk man, tell him that if he drives he’s going to get pulled over before he gets out of the parking lot, and strongly suggest the man call a friend or a cab.  If cops can talk people into confessing to murder (even murders they never commit) can’t they talk people out of driving?  Maybe my way is just silly.

My way doesn’t risk a drunk man on the street possibly killing somebody, though.  My way doesn’t leave open the possibility of a high-speed pursuit with a drunk man at the wheel. My way also doesn’t net anybody an arrest or another smiley face on the record from AAIM.

My way keeps the streets safer, though.  Isn’t that really what’s most important?

Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is a criminal defense lawyer in Illinois. He loves his dog. And pizza.

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