06.11a. Fishy Prosecutorial Dropping of Charges in a Monroe County Drunk Driving Case. . This case shows the power of the county prosecutor, and how if he can't get a judge to approve a plea bargain, he can just reduce the charges anyway. It also is an example of a judge so disgusted with this that he refuses to hear any case at all-- probably against the rules. From "Angry judge rejects plea bargain Prosecutor's office agreed to drop felony charge against man who had .22 blood-alcohol content," by Katy Murphy, Bloomngton Herald-Times, May 21, 2004:

A felony drunken-driving case that was quietly downshifted to a charge of public intoxication was sharply criticized after it caught the eye of a Monroe County judge.


Darren H. Fields, 32, of Morgantown, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.22 when a Bloomington police officer stopped his car in August 2002. The legal limit in Indiana is .08.

"I refuse to participate in such a disposition," Bridges told the attorneys at a hearing last week.

A police report filed in the original felony case states that Bloomington police officer Bill Crays stopped Fields' vehicle on South Walnut Street around 9:30 p.m. in August 2002. Crays reported the vehicle was swerving between lanes with its headlights off.

Fields also has been convicted of drunken driving in Morgan County twice since November 2000.

In August 2002, Fields was charged in Monroe Circuit Court with driving while intoxicated as a felony. But last month, that case was dropped, and a new misdemeanor public intoxication case was filed in its place.

Last week, Fields appeared before Bridges to plead guilty to the new misdemeanor charge and accept the maximum penalty. Attorneys on both sides were quiet about the history of the case until Bridges became suspicious and pressed for answers.

"What's going on here?" Bridges asked during a hearing last week that was audiotaped.

The judge asked why Fields had hired Sam Shapiro, a well-known attorney, only to accept the maximum sentence of six months for public intoxication.

Phyllis Emerick, an attorney who appeared on Shapiro's behalf, told Bridges that her client's original charge and criminal history were taken into consideration.

At that point, Monroe County deputy prosecutor Maryanne Pelic explained, "It was originally an OWI, and the video was better for him than it was for me, and so we came to this resolution," she said.

Upon further questioning, Pelic told the judge what Fields' blood-alcohol reading had been on the night of his arrest.

"Point 2-2?" Bridges asked, incredulously. Over the attorneys' mild explanations, Bridges continued to express his dismay. "A 0.22 getting thrown away --I find that appalling! I don't care what he did on the video," he said.

Pelic said Thursday that there were "proof problems" with the case. She said she couldn't elaborate because the case was still pending.

The deputy prosecutor said she was puzzled by the judge's reaction. "I don't know why the judge reacted that way," she said.

Under the plea agreement, Fields would avoid a third drunken-driving charge, as well as the driver's license penalties that accompany such a driving record.

Pelic argued that the defendant would have to serve a stiffer sentence under the plea agreement.

Fields agreed to serve six months on home detention for public intoxication. In a felony drunken-driving case, Bridges typically orders second-time offenders to serve two months on home detention, Pelic said.

The day after Bridges refused to accept the plea agreement, Fields pleaded guilty in Morgan Superior Court to a felony drunken-driving charge; he was sentenced to three months on house arrest, according to Morgan County court records.

Just two months for a second offender seems low to me-- and Fields has two other convictions in Morgan County, and who knows how many elsewhere. The new Monroe County judge heard the same charges, as we learn in "New judge hears intoxication plea," also by Katy Murphy, June 9, 2004:

A Morgantown man whose case was angrily rejected by a judge last month appeared before a different judge Tuesday and pleaded guilty to public intoxication.


In April, the state dropped the drunken-driving case and instead filed a public intoxication charge in Monroe Circuit Court.

Fields' case was reassigned last month to Judge Kenneth Todd's court after Judge Douglas R. Bridges denounced the evolution of the case as "appalling" and removed himself from hearing it.

On Tuesday, the attorneys did not present a plea agreement; Fields pleaded guilty to public intoxication, the only pending charge against him.

Monroe Circuit Judge Kenneth Todd sentenced Fields to six months in jail, the maximum sentence for public intoxication. A Friday morning hearing will be held to determine how Fields will serve his sentence.

The evolution of the case was troubling, but not surprising, to Larry Haywood, a local member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Haywood believes the jail overcrowding problem in Monroe County has caused drunken drivers to be increasingly viewed as nonviolent offenders who deserve mild punishment.

"It's basically what's happening," Haywood said. "We're not taking it as a serious crime."

Monroe County Prosecutor Carl Salzmann said Tuesday that the state's offer reflected the weaknesses deputy prosecutor Maryanne Pelic saw in the case -- not a soft approach to impaired driving.


Fields' license, however, has already been suspended by Morgan County. Since November 2000, he has been convicted of drunken driving twice in Morgan Circuit Court. His second conviction in Morgan County, a felony, came last month.

It's hard to believe Prosecutor Salzmann, which I regret, since I regularly vote for him against Democrats who seem likely to be even weaker on crime.

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