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DUI, Drugs and Related Incidents

By Bob Zache | Fifth in a series of 10
Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2007 1:17 PM CDT

(The Gila County Sheriff's Office, County Attorney, Arizona Department of Public Safety and Gila Community College are cooperating on a 10-week Citizen's Police Academy. The Arizona Silver Belt is publishing a summary of each class.)

The man eased unsteadily from his late model Oldsmobile, staggered just a little and was leaning against the car when the DPS Highway Patrolman approached.

Sgt. Dave Wonder had clocked the guy doing 70mph in a 55 zone at Top of The World. That was the first thing that got his attention. Now he figured he had a DUI suspect, a motorist driving under the influence of either drugs or alcohol... or both.

But a field sobriety test didn't indicate intoxication; the guy could walk a straight line, could stand on one foot, could find the tip of his nose with one finger and didn't smell of alcohol. So what was the matter? Why did he stagger a little and lean against his car?

After a minute's conversation, Sgt. Wonder said, he understood why the guy appeared to be impaired. He had left St. Louis the day before on his way to California and had been driving the last 24 hours; he was fatigued.

Going without sleep 24 hours can be the equivalent of up to .15 percent blood alcohol level, Sgt. Wonder told the class, and if not that high, certainly above the .08 percent set by statute. But it's not against the law, at least for the average motorist. Operators with a CDL, a Commercial Driver's License, are governed by statute: they have to rest after driving a set number of hours.

Even though it might not be against the law, Sgt. Wonder said, he still couldn't let a driver that impaired get back on the highway. So what should he do? He can't arrest him for being tired, but he can strongly suggest that the guy park there and sleep eight hours. And, he told the guy, if he or his shift relief sees the car moved any sooner, an APB will be issued... or something to that effect. Sgt. Wonder said he'll say what's necessary to get an impaired driver off the highway.

Same with a guy who's had a few beers, got stopped at the checkpoint between the casino and Globe, but passes all the field sobriety tests. Even though he may not blow a .08 on the breathalyzer, he's still had a few drinks. And if the officers have stopped him, they now have a responsibility to detain him. If they don't, and if he drives on and gets involved in a collision, guess who's liable, who'll get sued for contributing to the incident?

"That's right," said, Sgt. Keith Thompson, Gila County Sheriff's Office Deputy, "We will, the police agency that stopped him then let him go. That's why they are not going to drive; they're not going anywhere. "

"If we're lucky - or if they're lucky - they have a valid credit card and we can take them to a motel and let them spend the night," Sgt. Wonder continued. "But what if we're out at the bottom of Salt River Canyon and the guy's from Illinois and there's nobody to come get him? What do we do then?""

DPS Sgt. Wonder, Sheriff's Sgt. Thompson and SO Sgt. Mike Fane described various scenarios to the Citizen's Police Academy, asking class members what they thought would be appropriate action. Most of the time, there's a clear violation that is covered by statute, but the gray areas might require some innovation by the arresting officer. All the scenarios have actually happened at some time, they said.

"You use the Reasonable Test," Sgt. Wonder finally explained. "It might not be taught in the academy, but you do the best you can under the circumstances. Maybe for their own good, and the safety of the public, you arrest them for disorderly conduct. If there's an empty beer can under the back seat, even better, it's an open container, which is against the law. We can take them in, tow their car. Bottom line is, we keep them off the highway."

Sgt. Thompson detailed the various field sobriety tests and how they're conducted. He demonstrated the procedures with two sheriff's officers, Sgt. Johnny Holmes and Sgt. Richard Taylor, who had spent two hours in a bar before class. They were fairly competent at walking heel-to-toe nine steps and back, standing on one foot and divided attention tests, but the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test caught them both.

That's the one where the officer holds a pen or some other object in front of their face and has them track it with their eyes. He carefully observes the pupils first to detect possible drug or medical problem, then watches the eyes as they move from side to side. "The unimpaired subject's eyes move smoothly, like a marble across glass," Sgt. Thompson explained. "The impaired subjects's eyes move like a marble across sandpaper."

The two officers who had been drinking, were transported to and from the bar, and after class, home.

Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Fane defined drugs and summarized the seven categories. "A drug," he said, "is any substance taken into the human body that impairs the ability to safely operate a vehicle." The seven categories are:

1) Central Nervous System Stimulant, which over stimulates the brain. They include cocaine, methamphetamine and caffeine.

2) Hallucinogens, which impair the user's ability to perceive the world as it really is. They include peyote, LSD, Psilocybin (mushrooms).

3) Dissociative anesthetics, used as a surgical anesthesia for animals. This is PCP, Phencyclidine.

4) Narcotic Analgesics, addictive drugs like opium, morphine, heroin, codeine and the synthetics, demerol and methadone.

5) Inhalants, breathable chemicals like glue, gasoline, paint thinner and nitrous oxide (laughing gas) which is the propellant in whip cream and other spray aerosols.

6) Cannibis, marijuana, hashish (the compressed leaves of the plant), Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which cannot legally be prescribed for medicinal purposes in Gila County.

7) Central Nervous System Depressant: Soma, Benzodiazepines and alcohol.

Sgt. Fane said three of these drugs, PCP, inhalants and alcohol, can be detected by the HGN field sobriety test. If an officer suspects the subject is impaired because of some other substance, a qualified Drug Recognition Expert must be called in.

Formerly a police officer in Phoenix, Sgt. Fane said on night shift in the city, one in three traffic stops was a DUI. In the Globe-Miami community it is much less, he said.

"We're finding fewer drunk drivers now," he said, "we believe the designated driver program is catching on. We'll see a car load of drunks with one sober person driving. Sometimes, they'll pay a friend to not drink so he can drive them home."

Article courtesy of

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