The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

June 20, 2013

If you drink and drive, you're not home-free

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The Daily Star

---- — If you’ve ever played hide-and-seek, you’re familiar with the concept. 

You might have called it “olly-olly-oxen-free,” “olly-olly-in-free” or a similar name. 

The idea goes something like this: If you, as one of the hiders, can evade the seeker and make your way back to “base” without being detected, then you’re safe. It’s a time-honored principle, respected by children far and wide. 

Here’s the thing, though. It turns out that “olly-olly-oxen-free” is not a legally binding principle. And unlike the playground games of our youth, as adults, we’re not necessarily “home free” from, say, the police, just because we make it back to “base.” 

That’s how state police were able to arrest Davenport Town Supervisor Dennis Valente earlier this month on a felony drunken driving charge, even though Valente was not driving at the time of the arrest, and was on private property. 

It’s important to note that Valente is innocent of any crime, until a court determines otherwise. But his case is instructive in clearing up certain misconceptions about just how “home-free” anyone is, even on his own land. 

The unusual incident (troopers found Valente asleep in the cab of a stationary tractor) has drawn considerable comment. Several people have expressed shock or outrage at the fact that someone can be charged with drunken driving even if law enforcement officials do not witness them actually driving. 

And on the face of it, it may seem a bit odd. But there are a few points to note here that make this not so cut-and-dried: 

First of all, we all know that police do not have to witness a crime firsthand to make an arrest. Far from it, in fact. Information from other witnesses, combined with officers’ interactions with the suspect, and other factors, can provide enough cause for a charge. This is true for a variety of crimes, not just drunken driving. 

Secondly, there is a provision in the law that forbids not just the operation of a motor vehicle, but also simply being in control of a vehicle. So Valente’s presence on the tractor was likely a contributing factor in this arrest. 

While being on private property does offer some protection from the law, there were mitigating circumstances in Valente’s case that gave police the grounds to make an arrest. 

For those foolish individuals who flout the law and insist on driving while intoxicated, it must be tempting to think that they can simply cross some magical line beyond which arrest is impossible. But the law does not work that way. 

When it comes to drinking and driving, it’s not as simple as “olly-olly-oxen-free.”