Some of you may have detected a little arrogance in my can do attitude. Usually, this serves me well
It all started in December of last year when I was pulled over for speeding after watching Monday Night Football at a friend's house. Shocked that neither my radar detector nor state of the art Laser Jammer had warned me, I asked the Police officer if he was sure he had clocked me (bad plan). I had failed to notice he was slight of build, red haired and young
the stereo typical "you picked on me in school and now it's my turn" kind of look.
So, next he had me step outside for the field sobriety test, which I thought I performed admirably
but of course, he disagreed. On the way to the station I inquired if I had a right to have a blood test performed, as I was certain that I was not above the legal limit, but was told that I have no such right in the state of Florida.
Once down at the station, standing statue still on the X for the video camera, I answered their questions and when they asked if I would be willing to submit to a breathalyzer; I answered "I would prefer a blood test, but if that's all that's available, certainly."
To my surprise (and dismay) I blew a .094 and then a .095 according to their equipment. I'll never understand how a 190 lb. man drinking 7 beers over 4 and a half hours could reach this plateau. That is not what they taught me in driver's ed. 20 years ago. Naturally, I declined there offer to answer any more questions and spent the next 7 hours with a couple dozen other dregs of society in a freezing cold holding cell. Upon release, I paid an exorbitant amount of money for a cab to take all over West Palm Beach (and for the use of his phone). Having left mine in the car, I didn't know anyone's telephone number. Between the cab and the tow I'm out about $400.
2 days later, I interview 8 potential attorneys, and the only one that didn't sound retarded, lazy or incompetent wanted $12,000. This seemed a bit steep, so I hoped I'd have better luck another day. In the mean time I had been researching the law online and discovered that Florida State Statutes did indeed have a provision that entitled me to verify the accuracy of the State's test with a blood test at my own expense. Amazingly, only one supposed DUI expert of 8 interviewed was familiar with this provision
and he was the one who wanted the $12,000. This struck me as a fatal breach of procedure and my request, after all, was recorded on video ($20) at the police station. Encouraged by this discovery, I next spent an enormous amount of time reading Supreme Court Decisions until finally; I struck Gold!
RONALD J. UNRUH vs. STATE OF FLORIDA
It seems Mr. Unruh had stated that he "would prefer a blood test" but, like me, was denied an opportunity to obtain one. The cases were so close to identical, it was amazing!
So, armed with the knowledge that the Supreme Court of Florida had already basically ruled in my favor (by specifically stating that suppression of the State's Breath Test was a proper remedy), that left the Officer's testimony, notes and the videotape as the only evidence against me. Being a stereotypical Wisconsin Boy, at .095 I'm barely feeling a buzz. I wouldn't drive a car, but probably could at triple that level
so, the videotape showed a very sober OCCOM BILL. To make matters worse for the State, the police officer had stated in his notes that I couldn't stand, couldn't walk, couldn't talk without slurring my words and that I failed miserably every field sobriety test he gave me. Of course, the videotape shows quite the opposite.
A couple weeks later I show up for the "bond hearing", where the State offers me the minimum and of course, I decline. At this point I'm driving on a work permit, because my Driver's License has been suspended. One of the sleazebag attorneys had told me that court ordered appointments and lawyer visits were allowed on such a permit (false!). As I pull out of my parking space I am arrested for driving on a suspended license. Massive protest in vain, despite my showing them my work permit and explaining that I'm on my way to work.
This time I have to spend 24 hours in jail, so they move me to the "general population". I don't believe I've ever been so angry. My cellmate appears to be some kind of skin head, gang banger (I know, terrible stereotype). I notice that my bunk has no pillow, so I ask my new buddy where I get one. He gives me a hard look and explains that there aren't enough of them to go around, so I have to buy one from one of the other inmates (right). Apparently he hadn't noticed that I had already been pushed as far as I can be by the arrest itself. He about jumped out of his skin when I jumped in his face and calmly explained that he was either going to give me my pillow, or a guard will but I aint paying for nothing! Do you understand me? He did.
The next day at my bond hearing to get released the judge was clearly perplexed as to why I was there in the first place. The law reads that I have to have a cash bond, since it was driving after suspension-for DUI. He ordered $100. I called a lady friend to bring the money. 4 hours later I was starting to suspect that there was something wrong, so I gave her another call. She was freaking out because they said my bond was $1,000 and she didn't have that kind of cash, and she didn't know if I'd want my friends to know about the situation at all (surprised me that she wouldn't guess that I couldn't care less who knew). So, still thinking I did care, she opted to call a bail bondsman, who of course made the $100 non-refundable (10% fee). As I'm getting released, at like 11:30 at night (finally, 36 hours after arrest), the clerk notices that it was indeed only supposed to be a $100 bond
then informs me that he can correct it; but I'd have to go back inside and wait.
LOL, obviously my next cigarette was worth the extra $100 so I declined.
The next court date was the plea hearing for what was now DUI, Driving after suspension, speeding and, oh ya, expired insurance card. Not the insurance mind you, just the card. Here in West Palm Beach; they take all of the cases with representation first, then those who use the public defender and lastly, me. I'm told that I may have to wait days, just to say not guilty, but if they call me and I'm not there, they will issue a warrant for my arrest. Great. So I grab the nearest attorney in the crowded hall (overflow from a crowded court room), and pay him to simply plea me not guilty. That's all the help I want. Just get me in front of the judge (I'll hire a real attorney for my next visit). As I sit there I realize that all of the people who can't afford an attorney, and probably can least afford to miss work, have to wait the longest. Some system. It was then I decided I was going to represent myself. After all; I had a slam dunk defense against both of the real charges, right?
The following week I have to go and face what's known as an "administrative hearing". Separate from the Criminal charges is the Highway Department's automatic suspension of my Driving Privileges. Even the lawyer that wanted $12,000 said I had no chance of winning here. The standard M.O. is to subpoena the Police Officers involved and get a feel for what they are going to say in court. No other benefit should be expected. This means that I should lay down for a 6 month suspension of my Driver's License for a crime I have not, and likely never will be convicted of. NO WAY. I ignore the nay saying attorneys and subpoena no one. I show the videotape, explain the Supreme Courts prior ruling, including some additional case law that illustrates that the ruling does apply in the "administrative hearing" as well as the court
and win! The hearing officer sets aside the suspension for lack of evidence against me.
Now I'm filled with confidence. Since they couldn't get me with a "preponderance of evidence" at the administrative hearing, what makes them think they can prove me "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" in a court of law? Fools. I next attend my "calendar call" where the State's attorney and I both announce we are ready to go to trial. The States attorney offers me 30 days in jail for the Driving after Suspension and the State minimum for the DUI
and he'll be gracious enough to drop the Speeding and No valid Insurance Card. I counter with; I'll eat the speeding ticket and insurance charge, but no more. The judge busts my chops something terrible for representing myself, but acknowledges it's within my rights to do so.
Next, I file a bulletproof (IMO) motion to suppress the Breathalyzer test, and the judge sets up the hearing (today). The motion clearly identifies that all of the necessary criteria for the Supreme Court's Ruling to apply, plus I attach a courtesy copy of that ruling to it. Bulletproof, right? An hour and a half into the hearing the Judge has agreed with virtually everything I've said and I'm getting ready to ask for an immediate dismissal of all charges upon his ruling. He had spent the last 20 minutes meticulously going over the UNRUH case practically line by line and demanding to know what the State's Attorney thought was different here? It was vividly clear by the State's attorney's inability to form any logical answers that the answer was nothing. As I stated; the cases are nearly identical. Finally, the Judge gets done grilling the State's attorney who rests his shabby case, and asks me if I want a final rebuttal. It was clear the Judge was on the same page as me by now so I answered, "the Defense rests as well".
With hardly a moment's hesitation the Judge announces "Motion Denied"
. He then explains that the possibility exists that there are undocumented differences between my case and the UNRAH case. Not believing my ears I say, "your Honor, you're assuming facts not in evidence?" This gets me a look that could kill, and he continues "there is no evidence to show that the defendant reiterated his desire for a blood test after the Breathalyzer was completed. I respond with "Your Honor, I beg you to reconsider
you pointed out yourself earlier that UNRUH never did either and the Supreme Court considered his one request sufficient
and besides, that would be impossible to provide since they shut off the video recorder immediately after the Breathalyzer! To this he responds that I'm very close to being in danger of contempt of court and gives me the hateful look again. How dare you question my ruling! It took all of my might to not explain that he had no punishment that could equal my contempt for his court. I apologized and silently waited for him to leave the court.
When he was gone, the State's attorney, truly looking like a man ashamed of himself, brought me my paperwork. I asked him if he had "any offers for me today", with what was no doubt a stunned, resigned look on my face. He said, "Yes
I'll drop everything but the DUI and give you the State minimum for that. 6 months probation and 6 months restricted license (30 of which, no driving period), alcohol awareness classes,7 day imobilization of my car, victim impact session and 40 hours of community service and of course another $1,000 or so of fines. I asked if I could have some time to think about it, and he said I could take until the end of next week. He couldn't look me in the eyes when I thanked him and shook his hand.
At this point; I know I can win an appeal with proper representation. There is really no excuse for the Judge's decision to ignore the Supreme Court's Decision in the first place. But then I have to pay for the attorney, spend the next couple of years fighting, probably suffer most of the consequences prior to the case being overturned anyway, eat the speeding and insurance violations (at least I deserve those) and for what? I'm thinking at this juncture it would be more costly to win than to accept defeat. I don't know where Mr. Unruh got his stamina
I'm already weary.
I've never minded fighting the good fight, but boy do I hate to lose it.
The moral of the story: If you've been drinking at all, no matter how little, take a cab. They're cheap. And whatever you do, no matter what, never, ever represent yourself in a court of law
or like me, you'll have a fool for a client.
If anyone is still reading this, sorry it was so long.