Russell Hebets Aug. 11, 2014

Driving Under the Influence, also called DUI or DWI, is a significant societal problem. People get injured, and people die. These repercussions, along with the fact that DUI is avoidable, have led to a steady change in the way these cases are handled across the United States. Pushed on by the federal government, states have steadily marched toward ever increasing penalties and an ever decreasing quantum of proof in DUI cases. While there are very good policy reasons for these changes, the unfortunate truth is that innocent people sometimes get caught up in the always enlarging law enforcement DUI net. Don’t believe me? Just ask Tanya Weyker.

Tanya was a 24 year old college student when a police deputy ran a stop sign and smashed into her vehicle. The deputy denied liability for the accident, and arrested Tanya for DUI. The investigating officers noted an odor of alcohol, red eyes, and slurred speech. In virtually any jurisdiction in the country, this is enough to get you arrested for DUI. Tanya, of course, denied drinking more than a few sips of alcohol, but that was enough to put an odor of an alcoholic beverage on her breath. She had been crying, thus the red eyes. As for the slurred speech, the officers had never heard her speak before, she was just in an accident where she broke 4 bones in her neck, and yet the officers believed that they had the expertise to attribute her speech patterns to alcohol. Cue the handcuffs, the criminal prosecution, and the job-killing arrest record.

It wasn’t until months later when her blood results showed that she was in fact sober. The prosecutor’s office in the case didn’t dismiss the charges until they had actual video evidence showing that the officer ran the stop sign. If the accident had not been as serious, her blood likely would not have been tested. If there did not happen to be video available of the officer’s driving, fault would not have been conclusively determined (it is actually very rare to have video surrounding an accident). Tanya Weyker was very close to being reduced to a statistic in a system that cares less and less about any individual case, and more and more about the perception of being tough on DUI. The sad truth is that she’s not alone.

People often forget, or never knew, that Driving under the Influence and Driving While Impaired are criminal offenses. Anyone charged with DUI is entitled to the same constitutional protections that the United States grants to all its citizens. This includes the right to be presumed innocent. The entire criminal process is very complex, and this is especially true for individuals who have not retained a competent attorney. To err is human, and the police, prosecutors, and even judges are human just like the rest of us. Drive safely my friends.