Hard as it can be to realize, I came to Sweetwater as a newly graduated attorney in 1982. Greener than grass, idealistic as any young person can be, determined to right the wrongs of the world – I knew I could make a difference. The first two weeks I was here, my employer, Carl Anderson, was on vacation. As I sat at my (new!) desk working with miscreants and getting them ready for court, I knew I had the answers. One of the first with whom I conversed was a young person who was charged with DWI. Her test was quite low, she had no job, was still in school, and the more I listened, the more my heart went out to her. I offered her a community service based solution to her charge, knowing it would make a difference in her life. Judge Faver smiled and went along with me…and in time, when she reoffended, I got an education.
Quite a bit has changed in the years. While I have tried not to become cynical or heard hearted, I have to confess that there have been some situations which leave me shaking my head…or shaking with restrained mirth. Any person who has been involved with law enforcement or courts has myriad tales to tell. This is a time of year when few want to think serious thoughts – so I thought to share some of the quirky or interesting situations which have come up through the years. I have made serious efforts to ensure that no person will be able to recognize themselves or a neighbor in these tales.
Most people are aware at some level that arrests are videotaped. Generally the video starts (with audio) when the flashing lights come on and every word after that is recorded. When watching videos of persons arrested for DWI…this can become very interesting. In one recent video, the suspect was determined to hold a debating tournament on the roadside. First, the driver explained to the officer that he was unable to do the one leg stand on a particular leg as he had ankle issues. The officer suggested use of the other leg (standard instructions allow the use of either). He fell faster on the second leg than he had on the first. He made a mess of the walk and turn while asking the officer which language he was to use for the counting. The officer offered him a portable breath test, which he took…and failed. He started arguing that he deserved another chance at that test “because I passed all the others and didn’t study for this one”. During the ride to the jail, the individual spent the time arguing that, since he had a doctorate and the officer a bachelor’s, the officer was not entitled to “grade my test”. The logic used was less than it might have been, and confirmed the decision of the officer that the man was, in a word, drunk.
Once an arrested individual gets to the jail, they are taken to the booking area – but the recorder is not turned off. Another drunk was being quite friendly with the officers during the booking process. As the questions were asked, he was giving answers, but was obviously starting to lose patience with the situation. The booking officer reached the point of asking for an emergency contact. He responded with “what emergency?” “If there is one, who do we call?” “CALL ON MR ED!!!”. I’m not certain that the booking officer involved was of an age to appreciate the concept of calling a talking horse in the event of an emergency…but both my secretary and I were roaring with laughter as the video played!
The County Attorney’s Office prosecutes misdemeanors. As a general rule, these are individuals in need of some assistance to change their lives in a manner that will help them avoid being charged with offenses in the remainder of their lives. Probation is used to help with that, and, in the event that they are not able to comply with those conditions, they often find themselves in jail to serve a sentence. Granted that the jail we have at the moment is not as “nice” as the one we are building – but it is under the eye of the Jail Standards Commission. That means that meals are scrutinized for balance and caloric content, exercise and medical care are available. With that in mind, consider the letter which was sent to me by a woman who was not pregnant when we put her on probation. She did nothing while on probation, then sent a letter complaining that she was in jail on a motion to revoke her probation and is now three months pregnant (she had been on probation for six months). The allegation was that her child was endangered by her incarceration; the response she received was that we could (and would!) provide her with healthy food, no access to drugs or alcohol, limited access to caffeine, we can control exercise, junk food and medical care – and the unborn child would probably be healthier after her release from jail than it was when she went in!
Then there are those who set themselves up for a really BAD day in court. Most of the unrepresented folk who appear in misdemeanor court receive more than thirty days’ notice of the upcoming date. At that point, appearing late is risking ones freedom – and the later the appearance, more likely it is that the person will be taking a short walk down the hall with a deputy. However – appearing three hours late in clothing which appears to be pajamas, with tousled hair and telling the Judge that “I just didn’t feel like getting out of bed”….is probably as good a recipe for landing in jail as any could find. Of course, when that did happen, and the Judge did invite the individual to continue napping – but in a different environment and attire – that invitation was not particularly appreciated. One has to wonder what she thought would happen?!!
My interaction with the two intoxicated folk was probably colored at least a little by recalling their video tapes. If nothing else…I will always remember that “no one can talk to a horse, of course, that is, of course unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed!” Hope you had a chuckle!
Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org .