The late model Lincoln Continental drifted back and forth across the center line of the glistening, wet highway in the classic pattern of an intoxicated driver. I called in the out of state tag number, turned on my blue lights and bumped the siren to get the driver's attention. He slowly pulled over
beside the road, right in front of an all night market.
Approaching cautiously, I ordered the driver out of his vehicle. He was tall and well-dressed, maybe 40 or a little younger -- probably a businessman, I speculated, who had gone out for a drink in a strange city and had one too many. The airport was less than ten minutes south of us and a lot of out of town businessmen turned up on that particular highway.
He reeked of an alcoholic beverage and did poorly on the field sobriety tests, so I patted him down, put him behind the Plexiglas shield in my cruiser and called in his tag and driver's license to records. As I was waiting on records to check the information and adjusting my portable breath
test unit, the sky opened and the rain began to come down so hard that visibility was reduced to a few feet in all directions.
The car tag came back registered to a rental agency, as I expected, and the man's driving history came back clean. He didn't have any violations at all on his license. When he blew into the tube of my Intoximeter, the digits popped up a moment later and I saw that he was barely at the legal edge of the state's presumption level. He had tested well below what I expected, based on his driving and performance on a field sobriety tests. I was a breath alcohol specialist who trained other officers and I had more than a thousand arrests of people who had overindulged. I was no amateur at my job.
I mulled the situation over a couple of minutes. While I had little sympathy for intoxicated drivers, the man's record was clean, he had been very cooperative and he obviously was not a person who drank a lot. In truth, however, the deciding factor in my decision to temper justice with
mercy was that I really didn't want to get out and inventory his vehicle during a monsoon rain and spend the remainder of the shift wet and cold. Besides, I would probably catch somebody in much worse condition before the night was over.
"Do you see that little market?" I said, not waiting for an answer.
"We're going in there and give your car keys to the clerk and have him call you a cab to get back to your hotel. If you try to come back and pick up your car before daylight the clerk will call the sheriff's department and I will put you in jail. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir, I understand," he answered. "Thank you."
Putting my car in gear, I prepared to pull up close to the little market so we could get inside without being soaked. But before I could move the car, he stuck two crisp one hundred dollar bills through the opening in my cage through which I had just administered his breath test.
I took the bills and turned in the seat to look at him. We sat for thirty seconds, perhaps, without speaking. "Why did you do that?" I asked him. "I was going to give you a break."
"Where I come from, that's what an officer means when he offers to call a cab for you." He shrugged, seemingly embarrassed.
"You have the right to remain silent," I told him. "You have the right to the presence of an attorney..." Well, you know the rest of it. In a few minutes, a tow truck pulled the man's rented luxury car away and I headed downtown to the jail with my prisoner, soaking wet and irritated.
The following month, I went to court on the driver of the Lincoln -- and a dozen other cases -- to testify against him for driving under the influence and bribery of a public official. Finally, after about three hours, all my cases had been called except for that one. When court was dismissed without the case having ever been called, I approached the assistant district attorney and asked him why.
"I'm sorry, I meant to tell you that case is no longer on the docket. I got busy and just forgot," he replied.
"What happened to the case?" I inquired, my annoyance showing. I had a low tolerance level for political influence exerted in my cases.
He stared at me for a moment as if trying to decide what to say. We had worked together since we were both rookies in our trades. "Let's just say that you did well in the case and let it go at that," he told me.
The pieces fell into place. The flawless driver's license and a blood alcohol level that didn't fit the man's driving or performance or my field sobriety test suddenly made sense. "Was it the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation," I asked, or some other agency? Was the sting aimed at me or somebody else?"
"Like, I said. You did well." He turned and walked away.
"And everyone wonders why cops become paranoid!" I snapped at his retreating back, but he didn't turn around. To this day, fifteen years later, I still don't know the answer to my questions.
David Hunter is a retired detective and the author of several books. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org