Sun Investigates

Phelps avoided spell in jail – not all arrested on DUIs are so lucky

When Maryland Transportation Authority police charged Olympian Michael Phelps with driving under the influence last week, they had two choices about what to do next: They could release him to a friend or family member, or take him to jail.

In Phelps' case, they chose the first option. After the swimmer flunked roadside sobriety tests, according to court documents, officers took him back to a police station. After he took a Breathalyzer test that registered a 0.14 percent blood alcohol level, Phelps signed some paperwork and was released to a "responsible adult," police have said.


MdTA Police spokesman 1st Sgt. Jonathan Green said Friday that the move was in line with the law and agency policy. Officers are instructed to look at a suspect's driving record and likelihood that the person will show up for future court hearings when deciding whether to make a release, he said.

"In this example, [his] last infraction of this nature was in 2004," Green said, referring to a previous incident in which Phelps pleaded guilty to driving while impaired.


The Baltimore Police Department's general orders also give officers a choice of whether to book a suspect or release him or her to "a responsible adult."

But another high-profile person who drove drunk in June was subjected to the more severe course of action. Celebrity chef Bryan Voltaggio pleaded guilty to driving while impaired in September and received probation before judgment.

He was charged in June after police said a witness told officers she saw Voltaggio stagger to his black pickup truck and pull away. Police followed Voltaggio, according to court documents, and when they pulled him over he admitted he was drunk.

Police took Voltaggio to a police station but instead of releasing him with a summons, he was taken down to the city's booking facility to be processed. A court commissioner ordered him to pay a $2,500 bail and, according to corrections officials, he spent about 10 hours in jail.

Voltaggio, who had no previous history of traffic charges in Maryland, said in an interview Friday that he "accepted everything that occurred" and didn't have any comment on why he was treated differently from Phelps.