A nasty surprise in Surprise, Arizona

I had really hoped we as a society we had moved on beyond such flagrant racism as that presented in this story. Alas, it appears there are still places where it’s acceptable to discriminate in such a shameful fashion with relative impunity.

Takepart.com brings us this story from the too-aptly-named town of Surprise, Arizona. Jessie Thornton has been the subject of police harassment many times since he has moved into the area. The most recent one is a DUI arrest–all the more surprising because the Breathalyzer reading was a BAC of 0.000%. No, that is not a typo, Jessie blew a perfect zero. Yet the arresting officer refused to believe that Jessie’s red eyes were caused by anything else but alcohol intake, and booked him anyway.

Even after the blood test confirmed the perfect set of goose eggs on the Breathalyzer test, Jessie’s problems weren’t over. His car was impounded, and the Arizona MVD received notification of the DUI charge before it was droppped, triggering a notice to attend an alcohol awareness class.

Jessie has other ideas: he’s not only not taking the class, he is suing the city of Surprise for $500,000. I would like to believe he has a good chance of winning, but I’ve seen the “justice system” fail in weird and outrageous ways before.

This kind of flagrant racism is something I would have expected to come across in a newspaper archive from the 1950s or maybe in a novel or film set in the same time period, or a dystopian work of fiction set in the present time. Certainly, this is not something I expect to read about that’s happening in real life here in 2013. It’s simply inexcusable, especially coming from men and women sworn to uphold the law.

A clearly broken DUI/DWI law

Make no mistake about it: I’m no fan of those who endanger others needlessly by driving while intoxicated (sometimes called driving under the influence or drink-driving). But some of the laws are set up to give people like Daryl Fleck what can be perceived as a raw deal. And I believe he did get a very raw deal.

Originally reported on a site called simply thenewspaper.com and blogged by Young Americans for Liberty and Lew Rockwell, the facts of Daryl’s case are as follows:

  • Daryl was found asleep in his legally parked car close to midnight, one night during the summer of 2007, with the keys in the center console.
  • The engine in Daryl’s car was cold to the touch (it had not been driven recently).
  • He admitted to having consumed a significant amount of alcohol earlier that night.
  • He was tested to have a blood-alcohol of .18, twice the legal limit.

And based on these facts, even though nothing indicated Daryl had actually driven the car while intoxicated, he was convicted of DUI under the law of the state of Minnesota, simply because the keys he had could turn the ignition and in theory he could have driven the car.

Not to mention, when police tried to start the car, it would not start. Granted, this was some weeks after the fact, plenty of time for the battery to drain down to zilch.

Granted, Daryl had three previous DUI convictions and was thus far from an ideal test case for this situation. Still, I think this is an obvious case of way overzealous prosecution and a law that is simply too broad. And for that, Daryl, and no doubt several others, get another DUI conviction for sleeping in a car with that car’s ignition key.

And I know it’s a bit odd for me to quote the FSF’s “Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases That Are Worth Avoiding”, but the words apply the same here as there:

The idea that laws decide what is right or wrong is mistaken in general. Laws are, at their best, an attempt to achieve justice; to say that laws define justice or ethical conduct is turning things upside down.

And in this case, I believe the law has failed to achieve justice. This is a broken law and it is in the best interests of the people of Minnesota to act to fix it.

There is one other thing about this case I’d like to comment upon. From thenewspaper.com’s story:

As Fleck was an unsympathetic figure with multiple DUI convictions in his
past, prosecutors had no problem convincing a jury to convict. The court took up Fleck’s case to expand the precedent to cover the case of mere presence in an undriven — and perhaps undrivable — car into the definition of drunk driving. The court relied on Fleck’s drunken claim that his car was operable to set aside the physical evidence to the contrary.

When I was last on a jury, the defendant did have a prior conviction. However, we did not find out about that until the sentencing phase. Granted, that was in Texas, and this case is in Minnesota. However I still find it difficult to believe that the jury knew about his prior convictions during the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial. If they did, that’s another broken law that needs fixing up there in Minnesota.