Does Last Drink Location Data Collection Make Sense? by Shawn May, Legal Counsel

When police stop someone suspected of driving while intoxicated there is usually a question and answer period, often followed by some field sobriety tests, and for some, a trip to the local police station. For those drivers who are intoxicated and are processed at the police station, another question is asked of them: “Where was the location of your last drink?” If the driver responds with the name of a bar or restaurant, the answer is then reported to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services as an “LDL” or Last Drink Location. The DCJS keeps a record of these statistics and shares them with the New York State Liquor Authority and various law enforcement agencies.

According to the DCJS and law enforcement, the information is useful in identifying locations with a high number of LDL reports and allows law enforcement to increase patrols in those areas in an effort to reduce the number of drunk driving incidences. The information is also cross referenced with the ages of offenders and can be used to identify bars and restaurants that have or are serving alcohol to minors illegally. The State Liquor Authority considers the LDL data helpful to identify problem establishments that allow the authority to target these locations for enforcement investigations. A spokesperson for the Liquor Authority was quoted as saying the establishments on the LDL list “are subjected to closer scrutiny”.

At first blush the LDL list might seem like a valuable tool for law enforcement and state agencies. I might agree with this impression if there was a way to verify the accuracy of the answers given to the LDL question. Much like the anonymous complaint procedure at the Liquor Authority, the establishments negatively affected by LDL reporting have no opportunity to confront accusers or challenge the veracity of the statements. There are no shortage of reasons to doubt the statements given by an intoxicated individual who is in the midst of being processed for breaking the law. Not only might there exist good reasons for the driver to not want to accurately answer an arresting officer’s questions, there may be incentive for some to outright lie. Take for example an underage drinker who does not want to get his or her bartender friend in trouble. Additionally, while a driver may accurately report the location of their last drink, maybe the location of their first two or four drinks is the more important question. Also consider the fact that someone who had two or three drinks in your establishment may not be visibly intoxicated, but could very well be over the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle. Or someone who doesn’t want to admit to a charge of consuming alcohol while driving.

Last but not least, the LDL information is public information readily accessible by anyone who would take the time to make a simple Freedom of Information Law request. The LDL list strikes me as more of a scarlet letter than an accurate and useful tool for law enforcement and state agencies. The negative publicity and additional scrutiny that comes from being high on the list is troubling considering the source of the information. If this self-reported LDL information is so accurate and useful, it should also be shared with owners and management of the establishments being named. For more information contact Shawn May, Linnan & Fallon, LLP, 518-449-5400.