In the news today were the stories of Michael Phelps and State Senator Ben Hueso both pleading guilty to a DUI’s. Phelps pled guilty in his home State of Maryland and Hueso up in Sacramento. It seems like we hear about celebrities getting arrested for DUI all the time. Whether sports figures, politicians, actors and actresses (Lindsey Lohan), music artists (Justin Beiber, although artist is generous) or other famous people with no particular talent other than being famous (Paris Hilton), it seems like we are always hearing about somebody famous getting popped for a DUI. Why does this happen?
DUI is one of the most common crimes we have. The reason celebrities are so often caught for DUI is quite simple – they are human. DUI’s happen to all types of people, rich and poor, well educated and uneducated, professionals and laborers, doctors, lawyers, judges, all races, sexes and sexual orientations, famous and common schmos alike.
The reason it is so common is because of the nature of alcohol. One of the first things that happens when we drink alcohol is that it affects your judgment. It eases up on your inhibitions. Hell, that is one of the main reasons people drink to begin with. And, as we drink, the BAC goes up and our judgment goes down. Eventually, those two lines pass each other and all bets are off. This is not an excuse, but, an explanation.
Very few people actually set out planning to drink more than they know they should and then drive home. They have a drink, then another and eventually, their judgment is impaired to the point where they think they are fine, but, in fact, they shouldn’t be driving.
One factor in that is the Mallenby Effect. We tend to feel the effects of alcohol more when our BAC is going up versus when it is coming down. A lot of times, people try and do the responsible thing. They stop drinking well before they are going to drive. They wait and maybe drink water, soda or coffee. Eventually they feel fine and get behind thewheel. The problem is, while they feel fine, their BAC is as high as it was earlier when they felt tipsy.
I once was in court when a judge at a DUI sentencing hearing told the prosecutor, “Counsel, we’ve all done it. It’s just that some of us haven’t been caught.” At first, I was shocked a judge would basically admit he’d driven after drinking more than he should have. But, when you think about it, he’s really not far off. If you drink alcohol and you drive, chances are you probably drove when you shouldn’t have. Sometimes, even if you are not at the legal limit, you still may be impaired for the purposes of driving. Here in San Diego County, the “experts” for the prosecutors will testify everyone is too impaired to be driving at 0.05%. While that is a gross overstatement and generalization, it is possible that your mental faculties can be impaired too much to drive below the legal limit. That’s why we have two laws, DUI (Vehicle Code section 23152(a)) and Driving with a BAC of 0.08% or more (Vehicle Code section 23152(b)).
So, we are all more like celebrities than we thought.