Don't blow the Breathalyzer

I think your "Confessions of a Drunk Driver" [Cover story, September 9, 2004] was first rate, but I wish you had addressed several other issues.

Based on my own nightmarish experience, I learned from my very expensive Northern Virginia attorney that you can mitigate the severity of the Commonwealth's case against you if you are accused of driving under the influence.

First, don't take the roadside breathalyzer test. The policeman might tell you that if you don't, you will automatically be convicted and lose you license. This is not true. The only breathalyzer you are required to blow is the official machine at city, county, or state police headquarters that has a computerized link to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Richmond. The roadside breathalyzer cannot be used as evidence in court by the Commonwealth and is used as a preliminary screen for the roadside tests.

Second, do not get out of your car and perform the roadside tests. One is not legally required to do so. Many people believe that the successful accomplishment of these tests will persuade the officer to let them go. The real purpose of these tests is so that the policeman can collect evidence against you.

Third, don't tell the policeman when your last drink was taken. They use this information to determine when to give you the official breathalyzer. In fact, don't say anything to the policeman. Tell him that you will not speak to him without the presence of your attorney.

The bottom line here is: Don't drink and drive, but if the readers of The Hook do drink and drive, they should be fully aware of their legal rights.

Finally, don't hire a high-priced Northern Virginia attorney. They are not welcome in the court system here and this will hurt your case. In fact, if you blow .08 or more at any time during the arrest process, don't even bother to hire an attorney. Conviction is a foregone conclusion and the sentence is statutorily mandated. In other words, the Commonwealth's got you.

Caroline Exeter