August 14, 2019
The retired racing driver Al Unser Jr. was spared jail time for driving while under the influence of alcohol by entering into a negotiated plea agreement with prosecutors. The 57-year old two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 will perform 480 hours of community service and spend 363 days on probation for getting behind the wheel after drinking on May 20. He has also been ordered to attend a victim impact panel. Details of the deal were published on Aug. 6.
Unser was taken into custody after police pulled his Volkswagen Beetle over for speeding in Hendricks County during the early morning hours of May 20. Officers at the scene say that he had bloodshot eyes, was unsteady on his feet, and was unable to speak clearly when he was ordered to exit his vehicle. Officers say that they detected the odor of alcohol on Unser and asked him to submit to a field sobriety test. Unser allegedly refused and denied that he had been drinking. According to media reports, Unser staggered as he approached the officers before losing his balance and falling down an embankment.
The arrest was not the racing legend’s first drunk driving incident. Police in Nevada charged the International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee with driving while under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident in 2007, and New Mexico police cited Unser for reckless driving and driving drunk in 2011.
This case reveals that prosecutors may be willing to reduce drunk driving penalties substantially to avoid the risks of a trial even when the defendant involved has several prior offenses and was belligerent to police officers. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may point out to their clients that being polite to police officers and avoiding statements that could later be proved false may improve their chances of obtaining a favorable plea agreement.