Mr. Saunders was dismissed after being caught driving 143 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone with a blood alcohol level of .089 percent, which is .009 percent above the legal limit of .08 percent. The appeal was filed by the Denver Police Protective Association's lawyers, which is the police officers union. Mr. Saunders pled guilty to driving while ability impaired and reckless driving, and was sentenced to five days in jail, a $300 fine, and 100 hours of community service.
The initial reaction that one may have to this story is “how does this guy have the audacity to try and get his job back as a police officer?” But, after a few minutes of reflection, I believe the real question is “how on earth did this guy get off so lightly?” Unfortunately, I believe that the cynical answer is the correct answer: he was a cop.
It shocks many people to discover that even if you have a blood alcohol level less than .08 percent, you may still be cited for a DWAI, or driving while ability impaired. It is a similar but less severe charge to DUI that can be used as a catch-all provision when someone is pulled over and has been drinking, but has a blood alcohol level under the .08 percent limit for DUI.
Generally speaking, the police and the district attorney each have respective discretion in citing and charging a defendant. In this case, although Mr. Saunders was above the legal limit of .08 percent (probably half a drink over or so), he was clearly eligible for a DUI charge, and not the reduced DWIA. Moreover, it is frightening that not only did Mr. Saunders receive a less severe charge than he was technically eligible for, but he was also only charged with reckless driving. Statistically speaking, if Mr. Saunders had hit anyone, whether on foot or in another vehicle, while he was driving 88 miles per hour OVER the posted speed limit, they would not have survived the crash.
While I support the decision to dismiss Mr. Saunders, based solely on his arrest and conviction for this offense, I think the appropriate outcome should have involved a greater charge. Where there is a statistical certainty of death, a charge along the lines of attempted vehicular manslaughter is more appropriate, and the fact that the person being charged with the offense is a police officer should not make a difference.