Danny Kahl was accustomed to chugging a small bottle of cinnamon whisky before serving weekends in jail – he was serving an intermittent sentence. Drinking before jail is illegal, of course –inmates are not allowed to be under the influence while in the joint – but it appears he got away with it for years.
Then, in 2011, on the way to his punishment he rear-ended a car and caused a massive multi-car pileup. This is where it gets complicated.
The court’s decision: Kahl was arrested with booze on his breath and so he should be convicted of drunk driving.
Kahl’s story: he was sober at the time of the accident. After the crash, he panicked and chugged the whisky. As a self-described alcoholic, Kahl did not want to go to jail without a drink first.
So, was he driving drunk at the time of the crash or not?
This question has come up before: there have been cases of people who, after being involved in a crash, walk to a store before the police arrive and buy some beer to drink ostentatiously on the spot.
The idea is to muddy the legal waters. Police routinely test drivers’ breath for alcohol after a crash. But if a driver is seen to get out of the car afterwards and buy and drink a beer, can investigators prove that there was alcohol in the system before the event?
Fortunately, this type of evasion is rare, as a conditions need to be just right: the crash must occur near a source of alcohol, or the driver must be carrying a bottle. Also, the driver must have the presence of mind to get hold of the alcohol and drink it.
But most important, the driver must need a reason to drink after a crash. Apart from an overwhelming alcoholic compulsion, the only plausible reason to drink after a crash is because one was drinking before it. Which is why prosecutors tend not to look kindly on this excuse.
Danny Kahl will now get a new trial: his conviction was overturned. The courts will have to puzzle out whether Kahl drank before or after the crash.
One thing is not a matter of question: Mr. Kahl had previous DUI offenses. If an ignition interlock had been installed in his car as a result of those DUIs, Mr. Kahl would have been vindicated, since he could not have started his car after drinking whisky. A little irony to ponder in the midst of a tangled legal case.