by Monica Ross
by Monica A. Ross, LPC
I had just moved back to Austin at the beginning of August 2017. It was my big reentry into the city after the 2 years of exile by choice and not by force that I had put into interning in East Texas. I was 2 weeks into a new job as a psychotherapist here at a successful group practice. Things were looking good.
My friends had invited me out to a private music concert downtown. These particular friends are longtime friends—one is a mechanical engineer and the other a product manager for a mobile software company. They offered to pick me up and take me home that night because I was going solo, and I decided at the last minute I would drive myself.
The event itself was a lot of fun. The company of friends was even better. That night I had one vodka cranberry cocktail at 8:30 p.m. when I arrived, and by 10 p.m. the event was over. But instead of going home, I thought I would hang out a bit longer by myself downtown. I was thinking maybe just 1 more hour. After all, I had just come from living in a place where the nearest nightlife that was anything similar to Austin’s was a good 2- to 3-hour drive away.
I headed down the street to the warehouse district and had another cocktail. And then I ended up leaving downtown by I guess about 11ish. I hadn’t eaten since early afternoon that day, so I stopped by a popular place in south Austin on my way back home and had a light meal.
It’s actually another nostalgic place for me—a homegrown wing and waffle fry place called Pluckers. The first Pluckers opened up a few blocks from where I lived as an undergraduate in West Campus, and dropping in there now and again makes me think of that time period.
So, I have my dinner and order a beer to drink with it. I barely touched much of the beer. And by then several hours had passed during the drinking of the alcoholic drinks. I had had my food by now to go with it. I thought I was safe enough to get back on the road and go home, which wasn’t too much of a farther drive for me.
So, I proceeded to do that. I headed home. I drove down a residential street in south Austin.
And off went the swirling red lights behind me. An officer pulled me over. “Have you been drinking, tonight?” Yes, officer I have. “How much have you had to drink?” About two cocktails. “Please step outside the car.”
The officer pulled me over for speeding. I had been driving over the speed limit because it was a street that I was not familiar with, it was also very dark at that point and the street signs were not well lit. I was driving what I thought to be an appropriate enough average speed for a residential area and then aimed slightly above that. It’s what any average Texas driver would do.
In all honestly, I was also rushing to get home because I was exhausted. I was out well past my bedtime at that point.
The officer asked me questions about my entire day. I answered every single one without missing a beat. He then gave me a field sobriety test. He had to give me a field sobriety test for liability reasons alone. Here I had been pulled over for speeding and then add to that the fact that I admitted to drinking.
I thought I passed the field sobriety test. Most people probably feel that way. You go online and read all the reasons for which people fail these tests and how it can have nothing to do with how much one has or has not had to drink.
It was only when the officer said, “Do you consent to a breathalyzer?” that I began to think there was something about this that wasn’t right.
I asked him, by consent, do you mean I can refuse?
He said, Yes.
Then I said: I refuse the breathalyzer.
He said, then I’m going to have to arrest you.
I said, wait if arrest is on the table then go ahead give me the breathalyzer.
He said, it’s too late at this point. I’m going to have to arrest you.
And that’s what he proceeded to do.
I was handcuffed and taken to Travis County jail. I put on jail garb—the whole thing. I got my mugshot taken. I sat in a room full of people who also had been brought in that night for similar reasons. I met nurses and other career professionals in jail.
I visited with students and ne’er-do-well types who also had been brought it. It was a huge mix of both people who were repeat offenders and people who like myself were deer caught in highlights and kind of wondering wtf am I doing here?
They asked for my consent to draw blood, which I gave. They never explained the repercussions of refusing consent to a blood draw, by the way, but that didn’t matter because once I understood what was going on—that they intended to keep me in jail overnight—I consented to supplying evidence in my defense.
They took me down the road to Brackenridge where they proceeded to take my blood. They then brought me back to the jail.
The temperature in the jail was set to just below arctic temperature. They held us in an open space with benches and one shared bathroom. If we wanted something to drink, we had to drink from the fountain that was attached to the sink in the bathroom.
They offered some of us food and not others. Several of us asked questions about the nature of what was going to happen next. The guards gave information out sparingly—at times misinformation--and a bit of teasing.
I witnessed a lot of crying. A lot of handwringing. A lot of worrying about how the arrest would impact people’s careers, finances, family life. For some this was their second or third offense and for some it was their first.
There was a lot of regret expressed and a rehashing of events of the night—all the stories and all the details that led up to each individual’s arrest. I met people who were underage and people who were in their 50s or 60s or more.
Thankfully, I had been through a counseling training program and felt equipped not only to better deal with the hell I was going through, but to help others going through their separate hells as well.
There were a few phones provided for us and several of the women I was cordoned off with clamored around them and frantically tried calling friends and relatives and bail bondsmen all night long. If I was brought into the jail at around 1 a.m. or so we didn’t get an actual hearing until later that morning.
At the hearing, which was out in the open for all of the other jail mates to hear as we were handcuffed to each other, I was granted a personal bond and told that I was being charged with a Class B misdemeanor. At that point, reality sunk in even further. It was a “this is really happening” moment.
After the charges had been dealt, I was taken to a jail cell with one small window on the cell door and left locked behind it for several more hours—alone. I had to wait until a guard came to check on me, if there was anything I needed. She came by sparse and sparingly. So, I spent much of that time desperately trying to sleep the night off.
I was in jail for a total of about 16 hours. I had been up for over 30 hours at that point. If I had been exhausted when the officer pulled me over at 12 a.m., I was well beyond exhausted by that time and with no idea how all of this would eventually play out.
Had I been over the legal limit or under?
What I want to express is that for people going through this process, as I myself had to, there is an enormous amount of stress and waiting around and trying to figure the “what’s next’s” of the whole process. That stress doesn’t end when you leave the jail. It’s something that one can carry with them for the days and months that follow release.
I went to Brackenridge the very next day after I got released and asked that they give me my blood alcohol test results for peace of mind—after all it’s my blood they took, shouldn’t I have a right to see the results?
They said they could not give them to me—they belonged to the City of Austin.
My blood was the property of the City of Austin? Wow.
My next question was that at the point of blood taking, why did no one ask me if would like a separate blood draw, property of me? I guess that’s something they can’t do.
I found an attorney who was generous enough to work with me on the costs of representation. And when I signed the contract to hire him I still did not know at that point how much of his services I would need.
Hiring an attorney in that sense was a bit like buying insurance. In other words, if my blood alcohol came back over the limit for whatever reason, I would definitely need his help to argue some kind of defense for a first-time offender, but if it were under, as I had hoped, then maybe not so much.
Well, we’re into April now. The blood alcohol test? Let’s just say I was pulled over on August 20, 2017. The results of that test didn’t come back until March 15, 2018—7 months later. That’s 7 months of waiting and wondering and paying monthly fees to an attorney.
That was 7 months of potentially missed opportunities working for a well-known company that I made it all the way to the end of the interview process with, and then another potential missed opportunity working for a government position that I had all but been offered—pending background check. And we know what the background check at that point said.
The results—the BAC test—what did the results say? “NO ALCOHOL WAS DETECTED.”
I still at this moment have an arrest on my record for a DWI. If I choose to get it expunged it’s another year of waiting before I can even begin that process.
>On Mar 15, 2018, at 4:14 PM, Dan Garcia wrote:
> Hi Monica.
> Your blood results came back today.
> No Alcohol was detected.
> I have left a message with the prosecutor to call me to discuss how to
> dispose of your case. I will contact you as soon as I speak with the