To understand what it’s like getting pulled over for driving under the influence, Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Richie Labahn and I simulated the process.
Labahn, a patrol deputy, flashes his lights behind me on a side road near the jail. It’s about 6 a.m., and a couple of interested walkers look on at the potential trouble on a quiet street.
Labahn approaches my Ford Focus.
“License and registration,” says Labahn, who’s all business. “Is this a current address?”
Labahn runs my information, and my record’s clear. But we pretend Labahn spots something suspicious; maybe the scent of alcohol or slurred speech. When he asks, I tell him I’ve had a “few beers.”
I’m asked to step out of the car, and Labahn says he’s watching to make sure I don’t stumble as I exit, or brace myself on the car for balance.
Now it’s time for the field sobriety test, which Labahn, a 17-year veteran, estimates he’s done thousands of times.
None of the counting backward or the reciting the alphabet for Labahn. He goes straight for the eyes, which apparently tell all.
I’m asked to follow Labahn’s pen as he twirls it around, moves it up and down. Labahn’s watching to see how my eyes react to the movement.
“I’m checking how (the eyes) roll across,” Labahn says, as I try to follow the pen. In the morning sun, the eye tests are actually a little uncomfortable; Labahn has me stretching my eye muscles about as far as I can.
After that, I’m ready to “walk the line.” Ten steps forward, 10 steps back.
Labahn explains that after the field sobriety test, he has a good idea if someone has been drinking, and even how much. Labahn will later record all the indicators that point to alcohol usage that can later be used in court.
But the real test, the Breathalyzer, is next.
Labahn pulls out a plastic tube, explains how to blow into it, and I agree to the test. Suspects can decline, but the penalties, in some case, are even stiffer than if they had agreed and failed. If there are enough other indicators of alcohol use, I’d be arrested either way.
I blow into it. Labahn waits.
If the results come back above the legal limit of .08, Labahn says he wastes no time handcuffing a suspect. In an actual arrest, he’d have an officer standing behind me in case I resist.
Labahn has my arms behind my back before I have time to realize what’s happened.
“It’s done real quick,” Labahn says.