Under the Affluence of Incahol, part 3
by Gerry Goldshine
While giving the FSTs, I continue to watch the person for additional signs of intoxication and impairment. At times it was difficult to keep a straight face watching some of these people as they tried to seek a way to compensate for their intoxicated state–while hoping I wasn’t going to notice. Some would try and lean against their car, a nearby parked car or even my patrol car despite repeated warnings not to. If there was a nearby street light, that pole would suddenly become their long lost best friend. With an air of nonchalance others would plant a palm on a nearby building, behaving as if they were supporting the building rather than the exact opposite. Depending on how intoxicated a driver appeared, I would usually give them between four and six of these tests. However, there were those people who were so intoxicated that merely standing posed a safety issue–making FSTs a moot point.
After checking to see how much schooling they had completed, I usually gave the subject a basic first task–recite the English alphabet. Though it seems unlikely, most officers have had someone claim they didn’t know the alphabet because of a lack of education. It becomes rather difficult to maintain that fiction if they’ve said that they completed elementary school let alone high school or college — yet there are those who try. I’ve particularly enjoyed having someone lord their Stanford MBA degree over me only to have to sing their alphabet because they say that’s the only way they can remember it.
As I received additional training over the years, I learned how to make reciting the alphabet a divided attention task simply by asking a subject to stop at a particular letter, usually the letter “M”. Why “M” you ask? If you think about how most of us learned to recite the alphabet as kids, we generally paused for breath after the letter “P”, rolling right through “L, M, N, O”. Stopping at the letter “M” is almost unnatural and requires focus and concentration, something that an intoxicated person has great difficulty in doing. I have had people literally fall forward trying to stop themselves from going past “M”. I have seen people smugly rattle off the entire alphabet and this would be the exchange that followed:
“Do you recall what my instructions were?”
“And they were….”
“Recite the alphabet from the letter “A” to the letter “M” and stop.”
“Do you remember what you did?”
“I said the whole alphabet.”
“Did you not understand the instructions?”
“I understand. Say the alphabet from “A” to “M” and stop.”
“Right. Let’s try this again.”
Sure enough, they would recite the entire alphabet once more but this time looking at me as though they had just answered the million dollar question correctly on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” That was generally a good sign to move along to the next test.
Field Sobriety Test-FST’s
Probably the test most familiar to everyone is the “Heel to Toe Walk” also known as “Walking the Line”. In fact, I would have people start doing this task right at the outset before I gave them any instructions. They would usually take exaggerated large steps, sometimes looking like a World War II German soldier “goose-stepping” down the sidewalk. Initially, the test was designed to just gauge a person’s balance and coordination. Those impaired by alcohol would not only have difficulty walking in a straight line but also maintaining a heel to toe position as they walked. Heaven knows how many would-be high-wire artists I observed over the years; some under the influence tried to maintain their balance as if they were on a wire fifty feet above the sidewalk. By having the driver count aloud a specified number of steps in one direction and a different number on return, an officer had another tool to judge the subjects ability to perform divided attention tasks. Interestingly enough, there were those experienced drinkers who could walk a straight line, heel to toe, perfectly fine but have them try to remember how many steps to take while counting them aloud and they would wind up doing a fanny plant on the sidewalk. More than once did I have someone do a nice pirouette as they turned to walk back only to take off walking in the wrong direction. When that happened, it was time for another test.
Other tests that I would give included the familiar “finger to nose touch” which could leave an assortment of poked eyes behind. Of course, there were those that felt inserting a digit into their nostril was an acceptable way to show their sobriety. When it came to standing with one leg raised, another well known test, some intoxicated drivers hopped around so much in an effort to maintain their balance, I often found myself wanting to hum the “Bunny Hop”. Others were able to keep their leg slightly raised only but a brief moment and would wind up looking like either a tap dancer or a high stepping Rockette. This was also the test that generated the following response after I demonstrated how to do it; “Hell, I can’t even do that when I’m sober!” As they say in tennis; set, game and match! There are a few other tests and some variations of those I mentioned. Most departments now also use a Preliminary Breath Test or PBT as an additional aid in determining if sufficient probable cause exists to arrest a driver for driving under the influence.
Once the decision to arrest has been made, an officer will advise the driver of what is called “Implied Consent”. In California, when a person signs for their driver’s license they are also consenting to take one of three blood alcohol tests if arrested for DUI; those are a blood test, a urine test and a breath test. Refusal to take one of the three tests means an automatic suspension of one’s driving privilege. Refusal can also be used as evidence of guilt. Many a suspect selects the blood test and when it comes time to draw the sample, will tell the person drawing the blood, “You can’t draw my blood because I’m a hemophiliac.” Thinking that they’ve put one over on the system, their usually smug smile disappears when told that the “Implied Consent” law says they have to successfully complete whichever test they choose. This is also the case when someone selects a urine test and then tells the officer that they cannot urinate while someone is watching them. More often than not, most people select the breath test and the ways that some of them think they can fool either the machine of the officer supervising the test are usually less than imaginative.
Breathalyzer test (parental guidance suggested)
At the bottom of the heap is the person who makes a great show of blowing into the mouthpiece but is clearly blowing everywhere but the mouthpiece. Next is the “tongue tipper”, who tries to surreptitiously block the opening of the mouthpiece with their tongue, while blowing like a category five hurricane. These folk will then insist the machine is defective then, when advised they face with a year or longer suspension of their driver’s license and possible jail time, they are amazed to find that it suddenly works for them. Then there are those “happy” drunks who like to share their mirth with everyone around them. When the time comes to take the breathalyzer test, these happy folk sometimes simulate oral sex with the mouthpiece. One night, many moons ago, a young officer arrested what can best be described as one of the skankiest looking woman any of us had seen for driving while intoxicated. During the booking process, she was quite garrulous and especially friendly towards this officer. When it came time for her to take the breathalyzer test, those of us officers present in the booking room were expecting her to make some type of simulated sexual act using the breathalyzer mouthpiece. Instead she turned, smiling her biggest smile at the young officer and said, “You know, I play the skin flute and swallow all the music.” That said, she then successfully completed the breath test with the result showing that her BAC was considerably over the legal limit. Meanwhile, the young arresting officer turned a shade of red that I have not seen since.
Early in my career, when I told someone I was arresting them for “drunk driving”, invariably an argument would ensure. They would loudly and vehemently insist that they were not drunk and for some who regularly drank, they were probably right about not being drunk. Then one night, perhaps because it was late and I didn’t want to argue, I told a guy that I was arresting him for driving under the influence of alcohol. He started to argue that he wasn’t drunk until I stopped him.
“Sir, I didn’t say you were drunk. I said that I was arresting you for driving under the influence of alcohol.”
“Oh…well…that’s different…okay fine.”
As I got him situated in the back seat of my patrol car, he turned to me and said, “But…but offisher! I’m really not under the affluence of incahol!”
Gerry was born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California.
Upon graduating from California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted in
the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving active duty
in 1979, he worked for Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement