Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Davis Absolved of DWI

Councilman Don Davis emerged from his 15-month DWI case with only a parking ticket – and a huge sense of relief.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” Davis said Wednesday (July 2, 2008) outside Scotch Plains Municipal Court, where Municipal Court Judge Antonio Inacio found him not guilty of driving while intoxicated on March 28, 2007.

Inacio had previously dismissed the most serious of four charges, refusal to take a breath test, on March 12, 2008. Because no evidence was presented in testimony, Inacio dismissed the charge Wednesday of failure to show proof of insurance. The illegal parking incident that started the whole chain of events resulted in the only guilty charge.

The DWI case foundered over police testimony that Inacio said was unconvincing.

Davis had parked illegally in front of Casanova Pizzeria and was emerging just as Plainfield Police Detective Edwin Maldonado was writing a ticket. According to Maldonado, Davis waved at him and drove away, whereupon Maldonado followed with his siren and lights on. Davis stopped 100 feet away on West Front Street.

Detecting a strong odor of alcohol but not having had field sobriety training, Maldonado called Sgt. Jeffrey Plum, who administered some tests. But it came out in court testimony that Plum’s only field sobriety training had been 15 years earlier.

Defense attorney James Trabilsy questioned the validity of the tests as well as Plum’s testimony last month that Davis apologized and said, “I know I should not have been driving.” That statement and Plum’s observation last month that Davis’s speech was extremely slurred drew a sharp response from Trabilsy, who said they should have been contained in the March 28, 2007 report, not brought up 15 months later in court.

Conflicting test results and no evidence that Davis was seen driving erratically in the 100-foot pursuit before he stopped led Inacio to ask, “Where is the clear and convincing evidence?”

In closing arguments before the judge’s decision Wednesday, Trabilsy repeated in great detail all the test flaws and gaps in the prosecution’s argument. Scotch Plains Municipal Prosecutor Thomas Russo argued that all the officers involved knew Davis, unlike the typical situation in motor vehicle stops where the drivers and officers are strangers to each other. This familiarity with how Davis spoke and behaved pointed up the difference in his speech and demeanor on the night of the arrest, Russo argued.

“This has been an unusual and interesting case,” Russo said.

He noted that Davis apologized 16 times during a video of tests and wiped his face 18 times while in tears over the incident.

But in statements before his decision, Inacio reviewed examples of the officers’ lack of training for or knowledge of standard testing methods and cited their lack of definitive evidence of impairment.

After Inacio said, “Not guilty,” about a dozen other defendants in the courtroom joined Davis family members in applauding the verdict. It was not clear whether they were pleased at the end of the lengthy testimony that held up their cases or the outcome of the Davis trial.

Outside the courtroom, Davis said the case “cost me extremely a lot” and called it a “terrible lesson.”

Davis received the Democratic Party line for re-election to a second four-year term representing the Third Ward, but he lost the June primary to former Councilman and Freeholder Adrian Mapp. His term will now end on Dec. 31, 2008.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

He got off only due to the incompetency of the Plainfield Police department.

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree....I think he was as guilty as can be...
at least he lost the re-election...the positive to come out of this...

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also agree with the prior posts. What a pathetic and dysfunctional Police department we have.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous joanna said...

dont blame the police department.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not blame the department?!?! That is absurd that you have police officers who are not trained in something as basic as sobriety testing? Isn't that like knowing your ABC's and being a teacher? But whose fault is it? Doesn't the Department have an Administrative Bureau that's responsible for making sure all police officers have current training? What do we have a Director for? Hopefully, that will be under the auspices of his new role.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don Davis caught a break here. I have seen him stumbling around Plainfield for years now. Just found out who he was, but once I put the name with the face, I can definitely say that he moves around "under the influence." More importantly, he has done very little in his position as Councilman.

Hope he appreciates his break and get it together. His business requires him or someone to drive and it would hurt his business.

11:42 AM  

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