Articles Posted in Massachusetts OUI Laws

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drunk-boating.jpgA man was arrested in Alaska for operating under the influence Aug. 3, 2012 as he floated down a river on an inflatable raft. In Alaska, as in Massachusetts, the legal limit is 0.08. A wildlife trooper arrested William Modene, 32, after authorities received reports of a “heavily intoxicated” man floating along the Chena River. Modene’s alleged BAC was 0.313. “Modene had been floating on the river for the day and consuming alcoholic beverages the entire time,” according to the troopers’ website.

Alaska’s drunk-driving laws apply not only to vehicles but also to “water craft,” which is defined as “a vessel used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water for recreational or commercial purposes…” In interpreting a law, such as the Alaska OUI law at issue here, courts do not consider the wording of the statute alone, but also try to determine the intent of the legislature in enacting the law. Courts generally consider the words used in connection with the causes of the law’s enactment and the goal to be accomplished.

Here, it would seem that by including the “water craft” language, the Alaska legislature likely intended to cover boats, jet skis, and other such motorized watercraft. Operating boats and jet skis while drunk has become a rising concern, and boating accidents have been the cause of thousands of injuries and deaths in recent years, according to Global Legal Resources. Typically, the primary goal of OUI laws like this Alaska law is to protect the lives and safety of the public. While it appears that a float would be included under the wording of this law, the legislature likely did not intend to criminalize drinking while on a float or inner tube, as such activities generally do not endanger the lives or safety of the public.

The reader “Comments” section on the Fairbanks Daily News website indicates that a majority of readers thinks that arresting this man for OUI was unreasonable. One reader wrote, “How can a guy in a non-motorized plastic blow up boat do any harm to anyone but himself?” Another reader wrote, “I don’t need someone to run my life and tell me what is safe or not safe as long as I’m not endangering others…Can I drink beer and go swimming in the ocean?” Yet another reader wrote, “I disagree with all of this. If he causes no harm to others, leave him be. If he dies, see you soon.” One reader who supported the arrest wrote of Modene’s “self endangerment” and the duty of the police protect “people who…are incapacitated to the point of self endangerment. ” This sampling of reader comments illustrates the topic of our last blog post, which involved the idea of potential harm to others v. potential harm to oneself.

To read the article upon which this post was based and the accompanying reader comments, see:

Massachusetts Drunk Driving Defense Law Firm

Operating under the influence laws throughout the country, including Massachusetts OUI / DUI / drunk-driving laws, are increasingly being applied to cover a broader range of conduct. This arrest for operating an inflatable float while drunk is just one example.

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Recently, in Souza v. Registry of Motor Vehicles, the highest court in Massachusetts held that as used in the Massachusetts operating under the influence (OUI/DUI/DWI) statute, the word “convicted” refers only to guilty findings and that a “continuance without a finding” (CWOF) is no longer considered a first offense for RMV license suspension purposes.

In Souza, the plaintiff appealed an RMV decision suspending his license for a period of three years. He had previously admitted to sufficient facts in an OUI case, and his case was continued without a finding and later dismissed upon successful completion of his probation. Thereafter, he was arrested again for OUI and refused a breath test. The plaintiff argued that his license should only have been suspended for 180 days because there was never a guilty finding and he was therefore never previously “convicted” of OUI within the meaning of the statute. The RMV argued that, in light of the remedial purpose of Melanie’s Law, “to increase penalties for drunk drivers in the Commonwealth,” a CWOF is the equivalent of a guilty plea. The Supreme Judicial Court rejected the RMV’s purpose-based argument and interpreted the law based on its plain language. It reasoned that if the legislature had wanted to include an admission to sufficient facts in the definition of “conviction,” then it would have done so expressly. The court reasoned that the plain meaning of “convicted” or “convicted of” is confined to a guilty plea, a finding of guilty, a judgment of guilty, or a plea of nolo contendere. The SJC went on to state that even if it were to accept that the RMV’s interpretation would be more consistent with the purpose of Melanie’s Law, the court could not read the statute in a way to advance the purpose where such a reading would disregard the language that the legislature chose to use.

Since the SJC’s ruling in Souza, Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Senator Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat, and House Judiciary Chair Eugene O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat, have come together to close the perceived “loophole” created by the decision. The three politicians are working towards amending the definition of “conviction” at issue in Souza to include CWOFs. “We must respond quickly to close this loophole and ensure that repeat drunk drivers are taken off the roads for significant periods of time,” Coakley said in a statement, according to the Boston Herald.

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On June 23, 2011, the United States Supreme Court decided Bullcoming v. New Mexico, a case which shores up our constitutional safeguards and which will have important implications in Massachusetts OUI/DUI/DWI/drunk driving cases.

The facts, which were summarized in a previous blog post, were as follows: In 2005, Donald Bullcoming rear-ended a truck in New Mexico. The driver of the truck noticed that Bullcoming’s eyes were blood shot and smelled alcohol on him, and he told his wife to call the police. Bullcoming left before the police arrived but was apprehended shortly thereafter. He failed field sobriety tests and was arrested for a violation of the New Mexico drunk-driving statute. Bullcoming refused to take a breath test, but a sample of his blood was drawn at a hospital pursuant to a warrant obtained by police. The sample was sent to the New Mexico Department of Health for blood alcohol concentration analysis. Such analysis involved operation of gas chromatograph machines and various steps susceptible to human error. The scientist who performed the test and signed the certification reported that Bullcoming had a BAC of .21, and Bullcoming was prosecuted for the more serious crime of aggravated DWI. At a trial by jury, the State introduced the findings as a business record during the testimony of a scientist who did not observe or review the test. Bullcoming appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which, considering Melendez-Diaz, acknowledged that the report was testimonial but concluded that admission of the report was constitutional because (1) the certifying scientist was a “mere scrivener” and (2) the testifying scientist was a qualified analyst capable of serving as a surrogate.

The question presented in Bullcoming, then, was whether the prosecution can constitutionally introduce a lab report, having a testimonial certification and made to prove a fact, through surrogate in-court testimony of a forensic scientist who neither signed the certification nor performed the test. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the New Mexico Supreme Court, holding that the Confrontation Clause does not permit such surrogate testimony. The accused has a right to be confronted with the certifying analyst, unless the analyst is unavailable and the accused has had an opportunity to cross examine that analyst before trial. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court. Justice Scalia joined the opinion in full. Justices Sotomayor and Kagan joined all but Part IV, and Justice Thomas joined all but Part IV and footnote 6.

Justice Kennedy, along with Justice Alito, Justice Breyer, and Chief Justice Roberts dissented. Much of the dissent expressed a continuing gripe concerning the Crawford line of decisions, of which Bullcoming is now a part.

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A recent article in the Boston Globe got my attention as a Massachusetts OUI criminal defense attorney. Massachusetts legislators are reportedly considering several changes to Melanie’s Law, the 2005 law that was intended to toughen penalties for drunk drivers. Legislators have proposed several ways to toughen those penalties even further, including a proposal to add ignition interlock devices to the vehicles of people convicted of one intoxicated driving offense. Ignition interlock devices are essentially breathalyzer tests attached to the vehicle’s ignition, which require drivers to pass a breath test before the car will start. Currently they are required by Melanie’s Law when drivers have their licenses reinstated after two or more OUI convictions. The bill was introduced by state Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, who also suggested eliminating concurrent sentences and “bundling” of charges for repeat offenders.

Read article: Bill targets Melanie’s Law loophole

It’s not at all clear whether the bill will eventually pass; the Globe noted elsewhere that it won’t pass during this session. But as a Massachusetts drunk driving criminal defense lawyer, I hope lawmakers who do eventually consider it will think carefully about whether it’s a good idea to require breath tests for anyone convicted of drunk driving. Even drivers with clean records may feel uncomfortable about how invasive the devices are. But even if that’s not an issue for most people, there are also serious concerns about their safety and effectiveness. Conventional breathalyzers require drivers to retest every 20 minutes, which means retesting while driving. That requires drivers to either pull over or take the breath test while their eyes are supposed to be on the road. If the device decides the driver is drunk while the car is already moving, the car could come to a halt with little warning. If drivers don’t take the test quickly enough, the car will also stop in the middle of the road.

Perhaps more importantly, there is also controversy over whether ignition interlock devices do the job they’re intended to do: keep drunk drivers off the road. It’s illegal to take the breath test in someone else’s vehicle, but the technology can’t actually stop this. Nor can it stop people without the devices from simply lending the driver their vehicles (also a crime). And ignition interlock devices have many of the same problems facing police breathalyzers and alcohol-detecting ankle bracelets such as the one famously worn by Lindsay Lohan. These devices detect alcohol in the mouth rather than the bloodstream, including alcohol-containing products like mouthwash. In some cases, they have even been triggered by yeast-raised bread! There may also be problems with how sensitive they are. For example, would a legal and, for many people, harmless 0.02 BAC shut the car down, or would the device consistently detect BACs over the legal limit? As a Massachusetts intoxicated driving criminal defense attorney, I would prefer that lawmakers address these issues before mandating the devices.

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A recent article about a drunk driver found in Brookline caught my eye as a Massachusetts OUI criminal defense attorney. Wicked Local Brookline reported Nov. 15 about the arrest of Jason Andrew Jeffrey, 32, for drunk driving. Jeffrey was arrested after he narrowly avoided crashing into a Brookline police officer at 3:15 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 14. The officer was passing the Reservoir MTBA station, when he heard a woman screaming and saw another vehicle speeding directly toward his police cruiser at high speed. The officer said he feared for his life as he braked hard and steered to the right to avoid the car. The other driver swerved to the left, narrowly avoiding the police cruiser.

When the car pulled into the MTBA station’s parking lot, the officer pulled in front of the driveway to prevent the driver from leaving. He discovered Jeffrey in the driver’s seat and an unidentified woman in the passenger seat. The woman, who was the owner of the car, apologized profusely while Jeffrey said nothing. Before being asked, Jeffrey declined to take field sobriety tests. He later changed his mind and attempted to take the tests, but the officer said he could not complete them. He also did not have a driver’s license. He was arrested on multiple counts including OUI, driving without a license, driving on the wrong side of the road and driving to endanger. He also had an outstanding warrant for an offense the article did not specify.

Read article: Alleged drunk driver causes Brookline officer ‘to fear for my life’

This article describes behavior that is unlikely to go over well in public, and Jeffrey would be well advised to hire a Massachusetts drunk driving criminal defense lawyer. But as an OUI attorney myself, I’d like to point out that Jeffrey was actually within his rights to decline the field sobriety tests, and in fact may have benefited from not attempting them. As I’ve written here many times before, field sobriety tests are not reliable indicators of whether a driver is actually intoxicated. There are just too many ways for health problems, weather conditions, road maintenance and many other factors to interfere. In fact, the Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that one of the tests — the horizontal gaze nystagmus, in which drivers follow a finger or pen with their eyes — is not admissible as evidence unless it’s administered by a qualified person. This more or less eliminates it as evidence for an OUI. The federal Department of Transportation has also handed down reliability guidelines for field sobriety tests, which can be used in court to discredit tests that don’t meet standards.

Perhaps even more importantly for Massachusetts drivers, the state Supreme Court has also ruled that prosecutors can’t use your refusal to perform field sobriety tests as evidence against you. This means there are no direct consequences for declining field sobriety tests, as Jeffrey originally did. Now, this is not to say that declining is always the right choice. For one thing, drivers who don’t want to perform field sobriety tests should say so more politely than Jeffrey did, because making a police officer angry is unlikely to benefit them. And if you believe you can perform the tests without a problem, you should consider performing them. After all, performing the tests well may convince the officer that you’re not drunk, allowing you to end the traffic stop and move on with your day. But if you don’t feel that you’re likely to pass them, for any reason, you should know that you have the option of declining without having it brought up in court later.

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If you listen to politicians and the media, you might think drunk drivers are the most serious menace on the roads today. However, a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals another under-recognized danger: drowsy drivers. One in six fatal crashes involves a driver who falls asleep at the wheel. Part of my job as a Massachusetts OUI defense attorney is to protect my clients’ civil rights. Given the hysteria around drunk driving — and the lack of hysteria around the apparently far more common sleepy driving accidents — I am concerned about the disparity in how these threats on the road are treated under the law.

For the family and friends of people killed in car crashes, the loss of their loved one matters much more than the specific reason the driver of the other car was impaired. There may be many different ways to be distracted or impaired while driving, but all of them have the same dangers — injuries, deaths, and property damage. Jacquelyn Polito, a registered sleep clinician at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, said drowsy drivers may pose the same danger as drunk drivers with a blood alcohol count of 0.10 percent, which is actually above the legal threshold of 0.08. As I discussed recently, scientific research shows that texting drivers are even more dangerous than drivers who are drunk or high. And this summer, a study by the AAA found that pets are the third most dangerous distraction for drivers, after talking on the phone and texting.

Why is it that, of the many kinds of impairments or distractions that can cause accidents on the roads, the only kind that is treated severely under the law is drunk driving? Many of the other kinds of distractions and impairments are not even taken seriously by the law. For example, the new Massachusetts distracted driving law was passed without the ban on driving with pets in the driver’s lap that it originally included, and its penalties for texting while driving are far less severe than those for driving under the influence of alcohol. Instead of treating all dangerous driving equally, the law singles out drunk drivers for special penalties. Perhaps the real issue is social disapproval of drinking, not the level of danger posed by driving under the influence.

As irrational as it may be, it’s unlikely that OUI penalties are going to be relaxed anytime soon. That’s why it’s important for anyone charged with drunk driving to immediately contact a Massachusetts drunk driving defense attorney. There’s too much at stake in an OUI conviction to leave your fate up to chance. Even with a first OUI conviction, the penalties can include hundreds of dollars in fines and jail or probation for up to 2.5 years. Compare that with the simple $100 fine that drivers over 18 would face if caught texting.

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A Beverly woman is in legal trouble after a teenager claimed the woman hosted a party at which she served teenagers a large amount of alcoholic drinks. That would put the woman in violation of the Massachusetts social host law, which dictates criminal penalties for adults who knowingly serve alcohol to minors. As a Massachusetts OUI defense lawyer, I have been very interested in following how our state’s social host law has been applied, because it can easily be used to prosecute innocent people. Anyone charged with violating this law should contact a Massachusetts intoxicated driving defense attorney immediately in order to preserve their rights and improve their chances of getting the charges dismissed or a not-guilty verdict.

In the Beverly case, police received complaints after midnight on Oct. 31 about a loud party at the apartment of Tiffany Clark, 35, at 903 Manor Road. Police entered the apartment, found several teenagers inside and contacted their parents. Police also reportedly found empty beer cans and 75-100 empty cups that they said were probably used for Jell-O shots. They observed Clark to be unsteady on her feet, slurring her speech and responding “somewhat incoherently” to officers’ questions. Then she fell down, and police called for an ambulance to take her to Beverly Hospital. Clark’s children stayed with a friend’s parents, and police notified the Department of Children and Families.

Police also received a report that a 16-year-old girl was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after being present at the party at Clark’s apartment. The girl told police that Clark refused to take her to a hospital or call 911, and that someone else called the girl’s relatives for help. When police arrived at Clark’s apartment, they informed her about the girl’s hospitalization, and noted in their report that she “seemed not to care.” Clark is criminally charged with procuring alcohol for minors and with allowing minors to consume alcohol at her home, in violation of the social host law. If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to a year in prison, a $2,500 fine, or both.

Read articles: Beverly mom summonsed for teen booze bash

The articles in the media about this situation portray Clark as being obviously guilty of getting her child’s teenage friends drunk. As a Massachusetts intoxicated driving attorney, I know that the law has to adhere to a higher standard than the media do, and that’s why it’s important for someone in Clark’s position to contact an attorney right away. It may be tempting to plead guilty after a trial in the “court” of public opinion, but it takes an experienced attorney to decide whether the charges are supported by the actual evidence. From what we have seen in the news reports, the police did not find any teenagers who were drunk or drinking alcohol at Clark’s apartment, and she did not admit to having furnished them with alcohol. Clark herself may have been drunk, but it’s not illegal for a 35-year-old woman to be drunk in her own home. At worst, the evidence presented here may suggest poor parenting, but not illegal furnishing of alcohol to minors.

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A series of articles and videos in the Quincy Patriot-Ledger about a rise in the number of women being convicted of drunk driving caught my eye recently. The videos describe the struggles of two women to put their lives back together after their drunk driving arrests. As a Massachusetts drunk driving criminal defense attorney, it’s my view that these women’s stories demonstrate how important it is for all drivers to use good judgment before getting behind the wheel — and also, how important it is to make sure that you have expert legal counsel if you get into trouble. It’s hard enough to handle the psychological and physical consequences of alcohol abuse without adding legal troubles to the mix.

It’s not clear why, but the Patriot-Ledger reported that as nationwide drunk driving arrests for men fell over 8 percent from 1999 to 2009, they shot up by nearly 42 percent for women. In Massachusetts, over 30 percent more women were arrested for OUI in 2009 than in 1999. Sarah Allen Benton, a mental health counselor, suggests that it may have to do with police having decided not to go easy on women drivers. In the past, police may have felt more sympathetic toward and protective of women drivers, she suggests — but not anymore.Two women profiled in the Quincy Patriot-Ledger’s articles and videos said that their OUI arrests forced them to get help for their alcohol problems and get their lives together.

One in 12 American adults abuses alcohol or is alcohol-dependent, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol problems can develop over the course of decades, starting in adolescence, before anything serious enough to involve legal consequences happens. By that point, a chronic alcoholic may need serious medical and psychological treatment to manage the damage that has been done. Unfortunately, the legal penalties for drunk driving don’t necessarily mandate such treatment, even though it would go a long way toward making sure that such dangerous behavior doesn’t happen again. For a first-offense OUI, the alternative “24D” disposition sentence includes an alcohol education program. But otherwise, the offenders are on their own to solve any problems they have with alcohol.

Anyone charged with OUI should immediately contact a Massachusetts OUI defense attorney to help them maintain all their personal and legal options. If you have been charged with OUI, with the help of a Massachusetts intoxicated driving defense lawyer, your case is much more likely to win a dismissal of charges or a not-guilty verdict. Then, if you are dealing with the psychological and physical effects of alcohol dependence, you can get help for it without also losing your freedom, your job, and your driver’s license.

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A new Massachusetts law went into effect on September 30, forbidding texting while driving for all drivers, and both texting and cell phone use for drivers under 18. As a Massachusetts OUI defense attorney, I’ve noticed that some news reports have called the penalties for texting “harsh.” This is interesting, since the penalties for texting are nowhere near as harsh as they are for drunk driving, even though studies have shown that texting while driving is actually more dangerous than drunk driving.

Lawrence Police Chief John Romero told the Merrimack Valley Eagle-Tribune that the texting law is “long overdue,” since texting has been the cause of many “tragedies.” The law punishes texting offenses with fines of up to $500 and up to a one-year loss of license. Romero notes, however, that it will be difficult to enforce the law because police can’t be certain what drivers are actually doing with their phones behind the wheel. Dialing while driving is still legal for drivers over 18. If police pull over a driver who appears to be texting, drivers can simply say they were just dialing a phone number. Without a warrant, police may not be able to check the drivers’ phones to find out whether they’re telling the truth.

Read article: Driving while texting incurs new penalties

What’s most striking to me, as a Massachusetts drunk driving defense attorney, is the gap between how the law perceives the dangers of texting compared to that of drunk driving. Britain’s Transport Research Laboratory found that texting drivers’ reaction times were 35 percent worse than when they weren’t texting, while the reaction times of drivers who were at the legal limit for alcohol consumption only deteriorated by 12 percent. Even drivers who had used marijuana performed better than texters, with a 21 percent slower reaction time. Texters were also 91 percent more likely than non-texters to veer out of their lanes, and were less able to keep a safe following distance from the vehicle ahead of them. Yet when a texting driver causes a fatal crash, Utah is the only state that subjects that driver to the same penalties a drunk driver would pay, with up to 15 years in prison.

In Massachusetts, a first offense for texting by drivers over 18 is punishable by a $100 fine. Drivers under 18 pay the fine, lose their license for 60 days, and complete a court-assigned driver attitude course. In contrast, the penalty for a first offense OUI is much steeper: It may include a jail sentence of up to 2 and a half years, a fine ranging from $500 to $5,000, hundreds of dollars in fees, and a license suspension of one year. The alternative “24D” disposition for a first-offense OUI is much harsher than that for texting too. A 24D judgment involves probation for up to two years; completion of an alcohol education program; a 45-day loss of license; and hundreds of dollars in fees.

There are lots of possible reasons for this disparity in penalties. Perhaps not as many people have lost loved ones to texting drivers as to drunk drivers, so the political will to do something about the problem has not developed. But even though the scientific evidence makes clear that texting is at least as much of a menace on the roads as drinking and driving, people charged with OUI face much more serious potential consequences than texters do. That’s why it’s so important for anyone charged with OUI to work with an experienced and knowledgeable Massachusetts intoxicated driving defense lawyer to help them navigate the system and get the best outcome — a dismissal of charges or a not-guilty verdict.

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Many of the cases of intoxicated driving that I’ve written about include good examples of what not to do and what not to say if you’re pulled over for drunk driving. For example, telling the officer you’ve been drinking and popping pills all day is not the best idea. As a Massachusetts intoxicated driving defense attorney, I encourage people who are pulled over for drunk driving to not only keep in mind their rights, but to think strategically about what to say and do in order to ensure that the police report contains as little incriminating evidence against them as possible.

A police officer who pulls someone over probably already thinks that person is guilty — but they still have to collect enough evidence to legally show guilt. This is why police officers ask drivers questions about whether they have been drinking and how much, and request that they perform field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests. Officers then record the details that they observe, the answers that drivers supply, and the results of field sobriety tests and breathalyzers in the police report, so that it can serve as evidence and they can refer to it when they testify in court against the drivers.

Many drivers don’t realize that even though police routinely ask them to take tests and answer questions, they cannot be forced to comply. You are not legally required to take a breathalyzer test, but there are consequences for refusing. If you’re over 21, you can lose your license for 180 days refusing to take a breathalyzer test. If you are later found not guilty or your case is dismissed, you can apply to the RMV for early reinstatement before the 180 days are up.

The same is not true for field sobriety tests, which you are free to refuse with no legal consequences in Massachusetts. Police officers’ interpretation of field sobriety tests is subjective, and the tests are difficult for sober people to perform correctly in relaxed settings, never mind for people who are nervous and standing on the side of the road, as I have written recently. Similarly, breathalyzers can also yield highly inaccurate results. Thus, it may better to deprive the police report of the police officer’s subjective evaluation of your performance of these faulty tests.

One of the biggest reasons to consider refusing to answer questions and taking the tests is that officers will record evidence that can be held against you, but are unlikely to record any evidence that exonerates you. Let’s say you had one drink but you’re not drunk. If your breath smells of alcohol, the officer will notice it, put it in the police report, and interpret everything else you do and say through that lens. You may not be able to stop them from noticing the smell of alcohol on your breath, but you can politely decline to answer questions about how many drinks you have had and where you have been, perhaps adding that you cannot answer any questions until you’ve spoken to a Massachusetts OUI defense attorney. Then, the officer may write in the police report that you refused to answer questions, but he or she will not be able to write that you admitted to drinking before driving.

If you do refuse to answer questions or take the tests, it’s extremely important to be polite and respectful about it. Do not challenge police officers’ authority or give them a bad “attitude.” Your goal is to avoid being charged with drunk driving, and making the officer angry does not help. It could also make the officer portray you more negatively in the police report and subsequent court testimony.

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