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Even a sip of booze can land you in jail

Understanding a Neg1 charge

If you've never been charged with a DUI, or the lesser charge of a Neg1 (more on what this is in a moment), you're probably like a lot of other innocents riding or driving around, thinking as long as your blood alcohol content is below .08, you're ok.

But you'd be wrong.

Suppose you're out riding your motorcycle, driving your car, enjoying a poker run, holiday dinner, etc., and you get back on the road after a few drinks spread over a few hours or more. From all they taught you in driver education or a motorcycle safety class, you think you should be ok at that rate. And you may well be.

But you just got pulled over by local law enforcement and you're about to learn why you may be getting handcuffed next.

If an officer smells alcohol on your breath, you'll be asked to take a walk to the side of your vehicle and be put through a series of coordination tests. Follow the officer's hand; walk nine paces forward toe to heel, then back; stand on one leg like a flamingo for seven seconds, then repeat on the other leg (many adults over 65 can't do this one 100% sober); count backwards from 69 to 54, and so on. Make one error and the next thing you know you're being told to put your hands behind your back, getting read your rights, and it's off to the precinct you go.

But hold on, you didn't drink that much.

So what.

After sitting in a cold cell for a while, you're brought in for a blood alcohol content. Blow as hard as you can into the tube for ten seconds. Wait a few minutes and repeat.

The next thing that happens is you go back to your 64 degree cell and wait 30 minutes while you're processed out. Did we mention that this entire time you've been handcuffed and your shoes taken away as they are not allowed in the cell? That concrete floor is pretty cold in winter when it's 30 degrees outside. Right - so is the steel bench you're sitting on.

After 30 cold, uncomfortable minutes, the officer returns, offers to call you a cab, gives you a bag with all your possessions, and finally unlocks you.

Good news, you were under the .08 limit. You blew something under "the limit" like a .04.

Good news? Well it's not all roses as you'll soon see.

There are two pieces of paper in the bag.

One is a citation charging you with Negligent Driving in the 1st Degree (1)(a). What's that?

RCW 46.61.5249 A person is guilty of negligent driving in the first degree if he or she operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property, and exhibits the effects of having consumed liquor or marijuana or any drug or exhibits the effects of having inhaled or ingested any chemical, whether or not a legal substance, for its intoxicating or hallucinatory effects.

The above is the Washington State code. If you live outside the state, check your local laws.

And you thought it was okay to ride around with one drink in tow. Nope.

You also note that no hearing date is set. Instead, the box next to "Referred to prosecutor" is checked. In most cases the charging city, county or state has up to two years to contact you before you're out of the woods on that.

The next piece of paper you pull out is the record of your vehicle being towed. It tells you who the towing company was, but there's no phone number and no information about where the yard is where it's being stored.

As you read the document more closely, you see the checkmark in the box that says you can't get the bike or car for 12 hours, even though by now, you feel zero effects of whatever you drank earlier. The good news is - you have 12 hours to figure out where the vehicle is stored.

Now your two-year wait begins. If you receive a hearing date, you can go and they will charge you in whatever way they see lawfully fit. Or, you can hire an attorney to deal with it at a price. If the Neg1 goes on your record, insurance companies will see it for three years. During that time you can expect a 25% or higher increase in your rates.

If the charge hits your record, it will be visible to the Canadian Border patrol and you may be denied entry at the border officer's discretion. Each time you want to go to Canada, you'll want to have a plan B.

So, after all we learned in class, and all the signs we saw about a .08 limit, you now know that even taking a sip of beer can land you in the pokey. Next time you plan to imbibe, it may be good smarts to find another means back home other than your motorcycle or car.

Ride safe, ride sober.

Gary Meeker/December 2016


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