Anyone with common sense will agree that if you’re a danger to yourself and others behind the wheel of a car, you shouldn’t be on the road. Drinking and driving is one of the easiest ways to make yourself a danger.
But there are those among us who either don’t care about their safety and the safety of others or they think they can “hold their liquor” to the point where it won’t affect their driving. It’s because of those people that we have punitive DUI laws…
Ralph was the kind of guy the joke “I don’t have a drinking problem, except when I can’t get a drink” was made for. Day or night, as likely as not, you’d find him with a drink in his hand. By his own admission, he was an alcoholic.
History of Problems
If you didn’t want to take his word for it, he could also present you with some strong evidence from his rap sheet. Like many alcoholics, Ralph made plenty of terrible decisions under the influence, the most dangerous being repeatedly driving drunk…
You’d Think He’d Learn
The San Antonio man had gotten behind the wheel of a car drunk at least 3 times, according to his 3 driving-under-the-influence convictions. You would think that he would have learned his lesson and arranged for a friend to drive when he was drinking or — and here’s a crazy idea — started drinking after he was done driving for the day.
But again in 2016 he decided he was going to have a drink or 10 and get behind the wheel of a car. Maybe he thought that if he stayed under the speed limit and kept the car between the lines, he could avoid the attention of the police. Like many bad ideas, it seemed like a good one under the influence…
If the police were the only reason not to drive drunk, it might have just been a bad idea. But when you consider that driving drunk can get you or someone else killed, it turns into a downright stupid idea.
When Ralph was driving down a rural Comal County road, south of New Braunfels, he managed to completely roll his car. Luckily, no other cars were involved in the accident and Ralph managed to survive the crash…
When first responders arrived on the scene, Ralph’s slurred speech and the smell of alcohol on his breath immediately gave away his intoxication. After he was taken to the hospital to be treated for his injuries, police ran a blood test which showed Ralph’s blood alcohol concentration to be 0.29 — more than 3.5 times the state legal limit of 0.08.
Ralph Friesenhahn was arrested and charged with driving under the influence for the 4th time. The case against him was open and shut. He was drunk, he was driving, he was a repeat offender, and so, he was convicted…
Throw The Book At Him
Because he’d been caught for a DUI so many times, a harsh punishment was in order. The judge determined that Ralph needed to spend 4 years behind bars to learn his lesson and to pay his debt to society.
I Want To Appeal
Naturally, Ralph wasn’t happy with this decision. He decided he was going to try to appeal the ruling and when his lawyer presented Ralph’s argument, that’s when things got crazy. He was claiming that the ruling should be overturned because it was discriminatory — against alcoholics…
In short, Ralph’s argument was this: the state of Texas’ driving limit of 0.08 blood-alcohol concentration ignores the higher tolerances that frequent drinkers have to the effects of alcohol. That meant that the “protected class of alcoholics” could be prosecuted without the court having to prove that they were impaired by the alcohol in their system.
But… You Flipped Your Car
Let’s say you were going to accept his argument that he should be judged by his actions rather than his blood alcohol content. The first thing you’d probably look at is the fact he flipped his car over with no other cars on the road…
But the judge who was hearing the appeal was there to evaluate Ralph’s argument and determine if his claim had any legal validity. Because Ralph was framing it as a discrimination issue, the first thing he had to do was to prove that alcoholics are a protected class under the Americans With Disabilities act or some other federal law.
Like other addictions, alcoholism is considered a mental illness. There is no legal precedent that says alcoholics are members of a protected class. Already, the first part of Ralph’s argument was a bust…
On The Contrary
Next, he had to prove that the law somehow treats alcoholics differently than non-alcoholics when it comes to DUI charges. In an ironic twist, not only did his argument fail to show that they are treated differently, it accidentally argued the opposite.
“He argues that they ‘should’ be treated differently,” Judge Bourland wrote, “ and thus fails to establish an equal-protection violation.” If there were 2 different standards, one for alcoholics and one for non-alcoholics, that would be discriminatory…
It’s The Car, Dummy
What it really came down to is a simple fact, according to Sammy McCray of the Cormal County district attorney’s office: “You’re not being punished for being an alcoholic. It’s the driving that’s the problem,” he said.
“It’s making the decision to get into a 3,000lb vehicle after drinking,” McCray added. In short, drinking like a fish may not be a good idea but it’s not against the law. But if you choose to get behind the wheel after drinking, you’ve broken the law. Period.
Getting Off Easy
Ralph’s sentence was upheld and he had to serve his 4 years in prison. Still, he got off fairly lightly, considering he just as easily could have gone to the morgue rather than jail. Although he was arguing for leniency in drunken driving laws, all indications show that those laws are trending toward increased strictness.
The National Transportation Board of safety has recommended that states reduce the legal limit to 0.05, claiming it would cut fatal accidents roughly in half based on studies of countries that adopted the lower limit. So far, Utah is first state to cut its limit to the lower number.