DWI's and "casing" bars

Is it legal for the police to sit outside a bar at closing time and wait for the drunks to come out, or does this fall under the umbrella of entrapment? I ask because someone was telling me a story the other day, whereas one night in a Philly bar a beat cop was shaking down a customer that had just left inebriated. Supposedly the bartender got pissed off, jumped over the bar, grabbed the cop by his collar and shrieked, “I paid you bastards off earlier this week!” or something equally as ridiculous. At this point the cop allegedly apologized, let the drunk go and continued on his merry way. Yet it occurred to me that, as implausible as the story already was, it seemed that you would see more cops haunting the parking lots at bars after hours if this were legal. And surely there would be some down & out bars that couldn’t afford the “grift” necessary to hold the pigs at bay.

It’s be entrapment if the cop had said “go on, have another drink”. From the story you tell, the cop sounds more worried about some protection scam etc being revealed.

Having police sitting around ‘waiting’ where there’s a chance of catching someone offending is an inevitable result of an emphasis on ‘arrest rate’, something definately prevalent here in the UK, and I’d suspect also over there.

Entrapment? How? By forcing the drunk to get behind the wheel and start her up?

I’ll try and find a relevant cite, but it sounds legal.

Sounds legal to me.

Hell, after my last Spring party the cops set up a checkpoint just south of my house on the main road.

They’re no fools. You go where the targets are.

Forget start her up. A friend of mine in Florida was arrested DUI for climbing in his car and attempting to “sleep it off”. Cops came by, found said friend, and his keys in the car, and arrested him for DUI, even though he was parked in the bar parking lot. Apparently it stuck, too, although I’ve no idea if he “lawyered up”.

The OP reminded me of a joke: the cops are sitting outside a bar at closing time, when all of the crowd comes out of the bar. One patron is so soused that he weaves across the parking lot, tries his keys on one car, then weaves some more and finally gets into the proper car and starts it up. The cops, having watched all this, turn on their lights and walk up to his window. “How much have you had to drink, buddy?” they ask him. “Nothing”, he replies, as he looks around at the now empty parking lot, “I’m tonight’s designated decoy!”

We’ll just because they are sitting outside the bar, they would still have to witness something illegal taking place, so if I were to exit a bar completely loaded, theoretically, couldn’t I walk right up next a police car (assuming that I’m not stumbling around), get into my car and drive home without getting pulled over?

Otherwise, it wouldn’t hold in court, right? (b/c law enforcement has to catch an illegal activity in the act, i.e. speeding, crossing the center line, etc).

I have heard, whether it be true or not, that police cars are not to follow one specific vehicle (in the city) for a specific number of blocks, otherwise you could report the police car (by the number on it) to the department.

Not sure if this is the case everywhere, but if this happened to your friend in Texas the only way they could make a DWI stick is if they found the keys in the ignition. I had a friend who ran out of gas in the middle of the street, decided right and there to sleep it off, and he only got a public intoxication ticket since the keys weren’t in the ignition when the cops finally found him. Heh heh.

Yes, in CA if you are sleeping it off and your keys are in the ignition, you are driving.

Stover, what you described sounds like probable cause. Is it reasonable to suspect that someone exiting a bar has been drinking? Yes, generally. Could the cops investigate further based on that? Yes.

Maybe a sticky thread that discusses Terry stops and the standard of proof required wouldn’t be a bad idea… because I know I’ve typed this explanation before.

First, forget entrapment. Entrapment is a defense available to someone who commits a crime because the cops pushed him into doing so.

Second, forget probable cause. The standard required for a brief, investigatory stop is reasonable, articulable suspicion. This is a standard of proof less than “probable cause” but greater that a unparticularized, inchoate hunch. The cops must be able to point to specific, articulable facts that gave rise to their suspision of criminal activity. If they can do this, they may briefly detain you and investigate further to confirm, or dispell, these suspicions.

People being people, I don’t doubt that there are cases in which cops have been paid to look the other way. However, a moment’s thought would reveal that this is unlikely to be a common occurrence for bar owners, especially given the civil liability that can attach if they let inebriated patrons drive home. It’s highly unlikely that bars would pay cops to give their would-be drunk driving customers a free pass week after week, only to unleash those drunk drivers on the highways and byways of the land where an accident may lead to a lawsuit against the bar.

If the bar was a front for other, more nefarious activities, I can more easily imagine the incentive for a payoff of some kind to the cops. Even in this case, I suspect it’s quite the exception, rather than the rule.

And to the OP’s final characterization of cops as “pigs” - what is this, 1969? Sheesh.

  • Rick


“Unfortunately?” Hardly.

The way I see it, a 100% sober person leaving the bar and driving home would be the exception rather than the rule. Doesn’t that make sense?

In most states, isn’t there a “driving under the influence” charge as well as a “driving while intoxicated” charge? One would not have to have a BAL over the legal limit to still be charged with something.

I notice there are a lot of people assuming that being in a bar, then leaving and getting in a car is an automatic, or nearly automatic suspicious, if not heinous, activity.

As a nation, we have been SO brainwashed. There’s a thing called responsible drinking, and whether it’s assigning a designated driver, or limiting your intoxication, or waiting for intoxication to subside before driving, it’s not only possible, but common.

And further, being 0.08% or 0.1% or whatever the state limit is, does not render everyone identically incapable of operating a motor vehicle. Some people are more impaired than others at a given blood alcohol level, whether it be physically or judgementally.

Back before the days of fanatically risk averse acronymical groups like MADD, my rum-runnin’ grandaddy used to give us corn likker and put us in his '68 Mercury and take us out on the back roads of NC, to teach us how to drive under the influence. Not because he was thumbing his nose at DWI laws, but because he knew that there would be a time when we would choose to drive while intoxicated, and wanted us to be able to handle it.

In his words, “Boy, if you can’t drive drunk, you can’t drive.” In other words, you’re not a skilled driver unless you can handle the car, and yourself, when you’re impaired.

Should you drive while intoxicated? Hell no. It’s dumb, when you have so many other options… the best of which include drinking at home. But is it a mortal sin against society to have a drink or two, and then drive home? The answer is also hell no, despite the well-publicised option of a very vocal group of folks who are not objective in the least.

If that’s entrapment, then so is sitting on a highway’s U-turn, with a radar gun.

One thing I COMPLETELY disagree with is (like you see on COPS), putting a female cop decoy out as a prostitute, soliciting. Then arresting the guy. Not cool.

But not the same thing.

The Australian situation:

The cops can set up a random breath testing (RBT) station anywhere they damn well please including right outside the pub. In theory, at least.

In practice, this is very rare (I’ve never seen it). They are usually a fair distance away (say half a mile minimum), and on the other side of several intersections - so drivers haven’t necessarily come from the direction of the pub, and those who have left the pub might have gone a differrent way.

In return for “leaving the pub alone”, the owner of the pub will tend to help the police out by watching for underaged drinkers and refusing them service, booting out drunks, keeping noise levels down for the neighbourhood, not allowing a drug culture to develop, putting appropriate security in place, providing a courtesy bus or free soft drink / soda for designated drivers, and only bothering the police as a last resort when dealing with troublemakers - and cashing police pay cheques. If a place is well run, the police won’t hound the patrons. that’s the way it works in Sydney at least.

Publicans who run dodgy premises tend to find the cops aren’t too far away.

A guy The Cody used to work with got busted with DWI (liscense revoked and all - The Cody had to give him rides to work) while walking home from the bar. He’d left his car at the bar, decided he was too drunk, and walked home. Cops picked him up. Didn’t get a Public Intoxication. DWI.

Strange. But true. Dunno if he ever fought it in court or not. I would’ve.

What in the hell is The Cody?

This is highly unlikely. Even without a trial, the court should not accept a guilty plea without determining that there is a factual basis for the plea. In other words, there is at least a brief conversation (a colloquy) between the judge and the accused, in which the judge assures himself (and makes a record) that that accused understands his right to a trial, that he waives that right, and that if he had a trial, the state would be required to prove certain facts. The prosecutor must offer a brief summation of the facts that he would prove at trial.

For the judge to accept a guilty plea to DWI, the prosecutor would have had to claim, on the record, that the accused was operating a motor vehicle, and the accused would have had to agree. While I can accept the unlikely possibility that the accused was so cowed that he agreed to anything, I have trouble believing that in addition to that unlikely event, the prosecutor was so inept, corrupt, or otherwise misinformed as to let the record pass with that kind of distortion.

I’ve seen some weird things, but this tale strikes me as very unlikely.

  • Rick

I think most people who drink socially would agree wholeheartedly. According to Drink Wheel a 150-lb man consuming 3 pints of beer over an hour’s time would have a BAC of .076 at the end of that hour. Rounding up that’s .08, which is the legal limit in Texas. I know very few people that are unable to put back less than a pint every 20 minutes and still manage to drive home afterwards. I personally tend to down a pint every 30 minutes or so, and at that rate I can last for a good 6 hours (2 NFL games, of course) and still be fully capable of driving myself home with no problems. But then I realize we’re also looking at the overall time period involved.

For instance, let’s assume our drinker gets started quickly and consumes 3 pints in his first hour at the bar, but then slows down the second hour and only drinks 2 beers his second hour (ie. 5 pints altogether over 2 hours). At this point his BAC has skyrocketed to .119, well over the legal limit in most (if not all) states. At this point even if he stopped drinking altogether and drank water for another hour his BAC would still be .096, also over the limit in most states. I’d think few experienced drinkers would consider this a mandatory cab scenario, yet if he were to get pulled over for any reason on the way home he’s going to jail. My pet peeve with the drinking laws is not that “us drunks” don’t have free roam over the roads and freeways but that the BAC is absurdly low and not really workable.

Ideally of course we’d all take a cab or assign a designated driver, but in the latter case this does require some prearrangements which aren’t always practical if you’re, say, meeting the guys after work for a few drinks on the way home. And as far as taking a cab there are a few problems with this scenario which my current living situation should help to illustrate: I now live in Conroe, TX (despite my handle), which is about 30 miles north of Houston. It’s a small town of about 35-40K people. There are several different cab companies operating, but they are all without exception run by individuals with maybe one or two other helpers. These people have to sleep sometime, and when they do they just don’t answer the phones. I’ve had to walk 5 miles home from the bar before because the cabs were running when I got there but refused to answer their phones when it was time to go home.

Furthermore, let’s say I’m tired of what little bar scene there is in Conroe and I want to go down to Houston, maybe to someplace that actually has a decent beer selection. The mileage involved could easily make that a $100-each-way cab ride, which is entirely unfeasible for anyone that could remotely be considered middle class (even if I lived within the Houston city limits, the broad expanse of the city would still virtually ensure a minimum $50-each-way cab bill, unless of course I could afford to live in one of the posher areas where all the action is at). It’s usually cheaper for me to drive down early, rent a hotel room for the night, and take a cab from there, but the costs involved still only make this feasible every once in awhile. And I don’t want to sound whiney or anything. I’m just trying to point out there are people out there trying to work within the system but it doesn’t seem like the system is too willing to work with us. I’m not sure how it is overseas but in America it seems the lawmakers are still sore over having to repeal Prohibition, and they’re not throwing us any more bones than they have to.

I know at least a half dozen people who got DWIs for sleeping it off in their car with the keys in the ignition, including one friend who had the car she just paid $20,000 for confiscated.

Other horror stories among people I know:

Guy walks out of a bar. Sees cops near his car; knows he has warrants. Keeps walking but the cops recognize him. Gets DWI.

Guy sitting in car in own driveway listening to radio after fight with wife Gets DWI.

Guys playing frisbee in park at closing time. Cops show up and car’s owner gets DWI.

Guy grilling on ground-floor apartment patio with car nearby with stero on. Neighbor lady calls cops to complain about noise: DWI.

Lovely story that is probably apocryphal, but my dad swears it’s true (I may have posted this before):

A mate of my dad’s went to the lawnmower repair shop to pick up his mower. The mower wasn’t going to be ready for another hour, so he went to the pub. On the way home, he crested a hill, and saw a breathalyser unit a few hundred yards away. He knew he was over the limit. There were no side streets to take, and he started to panic. In a flash of inspiration, he pulled into the driveway of a stranger’s house, casually pulled his mower out of the car, and commenced mowing the lawn.

Of course, the front door of the house opens, and a man is standing there: “Who the hell are you?”

“Mate, you don’t know me, but the cops are down there breath testing drivers, and I’m over the limit. I’m just pretending I live here. If I’d just stopped, the cops would be suspicious, but mowing the lawn makes it look better. Don’t worry, you get a free mow out of it…”

“Well then. When you finish mowing the front, you can start doing the back. My name is Senior Constable Johnson…”