Articles Posted in DWI In The News

A 56 year old school bus driver in the Lakeland School District in Northern Westchester County has been charged with felony DWI after an accident on May 11, 2015 in which the bus she was operating reportedly struck a telephone pole. Mary Coletti, of Cortlandt Manor, was transporting approximately 35 high school students to the Walter Panas High School at approximately 7:00 AM when the bus allegedly sideswiped a telephone pole on Red Mill Road, pursuant to information from the New York State Police, who investigated the accident.

When the police arrived, Ms. Coletti was asked to submit to a breathalyzer, which reportedly showed a blood alcohol content of 0.14%, significantly higher than the 0.08% the legal standard for what constitutes DWI in the state of New York. There are several additional implications which apply in this case that create more serious legal issues for Ms. Coletti. First, under Leandra’s Law, an operator who is charged with DWI with passengers under the age of 16 in the vehicle is automatically charged with a felony, and this felony charge will not be reduced pursuant to the policy of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office. Presumably, some, if not all, of the passengers on the bus operated by Ms. Coletti were under the age of 16.

Ms. Coletti was arraigned in local Court in Cortlandt Manor, and entered a plea of not guilty. She was then transported to the Westchester County jail apparently due to the fact that she was not able to post the $1,000 bail. Because local courts such as the Cortlandt Town Court do not have jurisdiction over felony cases (these courts have jurisdiction only in misdemeanors or violations such as traffic tickets, for example), this case will ultimately have to be transferred to the Westchester County Court in White Plains. In the County Court, there will be several conferences between the Judge, the Westchester DA’s office and Ms. Coletti’s defense attorney, during which there will be discussions as to a possible plea, or if no agreement can be reached, a trial will be scheduled. Clearly, an important determination as to a potential plea will be whether any of the students were injured, and how many of the students were under the age of 16.

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Jojo John, the 36 year old operator of a 19 foot Stingray powerboat which collided with a barge just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge last July 26 around 10:45 PM, killing two and injuring three other people, pled guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter in the Rockland County Supreme Court on June 9, 2014 before Judge William Kelly. On July 26, 2013, John was at the helm of a speedboat on the Hudson River with friends Lindsey Stewart, 30, her fiancé Brian Bond, best man Mark Lennon, 30, and three other friends celebrating the upcoming nuptials of Mr. Bond and Ms. Stewart, which was scheduled for August of 2013. Ms. Stewart and Mr. Lennon were ejected from the boat when it struck a construction barge near the Tappan Zee Bridge and died at the scene. Mr. Bond suffered serious head and other injuries.

Mr. John was charged with operating the boat with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15%. The legal limit in the State of New York is 0.08%. John initially denied that he was intoxicated, and contended, as did the surviving passengers on the boat, that the barge was inadequately lit and that this was the reason for the fatal accident, not the purported intoxication of Mr. John.

Although the plea by Mr. John gives some closure to the case, the surviving passengers continue to believe that the poorly lit barge was a significant factor in the tragedy. A spokesman for the families, who are suing both Mr. John and the barge owners and operators in civil court for money damages, contended that the barge owners were warned prior to the accident that the lighting was insufficient and was “an accident waiting to happen.” However, Rockland County DA Thomas Zugibe stated on Monday that there was no evidence of any criminality on the part of the barge owners and that the accident was a result of John’s intoxication and the excessive speed of the boat. He also noted that John was an experienced boat pilot who knew the location of the barge from a previous trip up the Hudson River. Zugibe noted that the negligence claims could be litigated in civil court.

Mr. John faces up to two years in prison when he is sentenced on September 16. He has been free on $25,000 bail. With the guilty plea, this will strengthen the civil cases by the estates of Mr. Lennon and Ms. Stewart as well as the other three passengers who were injured in the accident, as the standard of proof in a criminal case, beyond a reasonable doubt, is much greater than that of a civil case, which is “preponderance of the evidence” (meaning that the evidence pointing to John’s culpability would have to be proven to be slightly more than 50%, already established by the criminal plea).

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On Friday, February 28, 2014, a Westchester County jury acquitted Kerry Kennedy, the 54 year old daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, of DWAID, or driving while ability impaired by drugs. Westchester prosecutors contended that on July 13, 2012, Kennedy had knowingly driven her Lexus SUV under the influence of Zolpidem, a generic form of Ambien, the sleep medication. The facts of the case, which to a great degree, were not contested, were that Ms. Kennedy was on her way to an Armonk gym from her house in Bedford, and had taken the Zolpidem shortly before leaving. She drove for five miles on local roads, entered I-684 where she sideswiped a tractor-trailer, and blew out a front tire.

Ms. Kennedy then drove on a bare rim onto Route 22, where police found her near the Armonk exit slumped over the steering wheel. She apparently failed field sobriety tests administered by the investigating officers and admitted that she might have taken an Ambien instead of her thyroid medication. Ms. Kennedy was arrested and charged with one misdemeanor count of driving while ability impaired by drugs. The case centered on whether Ms. Kennedy was aware as she was driving that she had taken the Zolpidem; she claimed that it was a mistake and she thought it was her thyroid pill, (which was similar in size and in a similar bottle, she contended) and prosecutors argued that she intentionally drove under the influence.

Generally speaking, with someone with no prior criminal record, those charged with misdemeanor impaired driving would plea bargain the charge to a non criminal traffic infraction, pay a approximately $600 fine, and agree to a 3 month suspension of their license with conditional privileges to drive to and from work, and for other essential reasons including to obtain medical treatment. Further, it is an extreme rarity for a case of this nature to ever reach the County Court, as the Court of original jurisdiction in this case was the North Castle Justice Court in Armonk.

However, due to the high profile nature of the case and the significant attendance by news organizations, family members, and the public, the case was moved to the ceremonial courtroom of the Westchester County Courthouse. The trial lasted four days and was highlighted by Kennedy’s testimony on Wednesday, in which she was asked many questions about her family history, work and character by her attorneys, which is also not typical in a misdemeanor impaired driving case. Judge Robert Neary permitted this questioning, and Ms. Kennedy denied that she ever knew that she had taken an Ambien before driving.

As prosecutors were never able to prove that Kennedy did know she had taken the Ambien, in my opinion, the verdict was a foregone conclusion, and the jury deliberated for only one hour over two days before rendering their not guilty verdict on February 28, 2014. Had Kennedy been convicted, she was facing up to one year in jail, (although with no criminal record, jail was highly unlikely and probation much more so) a revocation of her license for six months, and fines of approximately $1,000.

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On January 31, 2014, there was a fatal DWI accident in Tivoli, New York. Tragically, two Bard College students, 20 year old Evelina Brown of Seattle, and 19 year old Sarah McCausland of Winnetka, Illinois, were killed, and a third student, Selena Frandsen, suffered non life threatening injuries. The accident occurred at approximately 11:53 PM, when the three women were walking northbound on the shoulder of State Route 9G, (there is no sidewalk at the scene) just north of its intersection with Broadway. A 1987 Jeep Wrangler allegedly operated by Carol Boeck, 63, of Red Hook, struck them and then is alleged to have left the scene.

The only survivor of the accident, Ms. Frandsen, provided Dutchess County police with a description of the car, and Ms. Boeck was apprehended a short distance away from the accident scene. It has not been reported what Ms. Boeck’s BAC (blood alcohol concentration) was at the time of the accident, nor is there any information as to Ms. Boeck’s whereabouts prior to the crash. Under the New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law, a driver with a BAC of 0.08% or above is legally intoxicated. A level of 0.18% or above is grounds for a charge of aggravated DWI, which is a misdemeanor unless there has been a previous DWI charge in the last 10 years, upgrading the crime to a felony.

The Journal News reports that Boeck had a prior DWI conviction in 2005 based upon a review of records from the Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office. Under Leandra’s Law, a driver with a prior DWI within the last 10 years is automatically charged with a felony, and no plea bargains will be offered.

Ms. Boeck has been charged with first degree vehicular manslaughter and felony DWI as a result of the prior conviction. She was arrested and arraigned at the Village of Tivoli Court, and jailed on $50,000 cash bail, which she posted on February 1, 2014. The highest charge, the first degree vehicular manslaughter charge, is as a result of the fact that Ms. Boeck is alleged to have had a prior DWI conviction in 2005, and caused the death of more than one person. First degree vehicular manslaughter is a Class C felony under the Penal Law and can result in a jail term of up to fifteen years if Boeck is convicted. She is charged with two counts of first degree vehicular manslaughter for the deaths of Ms. Brown and Ms. McCausland.

Ms. Boeck is due back in Court on February 3, 2014. In addition to a jail sentence, it is likely that she will be facing a term of probation, a revocation of her driver’s license, mandatory attendance at a drinking driver program and victim’s impact panel, fines, the requirement that she install an ignition interlock device in her car whenever she is permitted to operate a motor vehicle again in the future, (which will be determined by the Dutchess County Probation Department in conjunction with the Court and DMV, and alcohol counseling sponsored by the County.

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In an article published in the Daily News recently, it is reported that NYC drivers who have been convicted or pled guilty to a DWI charge are either ignoring or evading the requirement that they install an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicles. Under New York’s Leandra’s Law, which was fully implemented in August of 2012, any drivers convicted of, or pleading guilty to a DWI, aggravated DWI or felony DWI in New York State must install an IID in any vehicles they either own or operate. The IID must be maintained in the car for at least six months by the statute; however, in practice, judges are routinely requiring that the device remain in the car for one year. The ignition interlock prevents a driver from starting the car unless they have alcohol free breath, which in actuality means that the level must be at approximately 0.02% or less, because many people have a certain level of breath alcohol naturally, even without drinking any liquor. If the device determines a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of above 0.02%, the vehicle will not start, and if the person is not able to start the vehicle within a few minutes thereafter, a report is generated to the Department of Probation, who monitors and runs the interlock program in each county.

Additionally, Leandra’s Law makes it a felony to drive while intoxicated with a child under the age of 16 in the car. The law was named after Leandra Rosado, an 11 year old girl who was killed in 2009 when the driver of the car she was in, Carmen Huertas, flipped her vehicle on the West Side Highway on the way to driving several girls to a birthday party. Huertas is currently serving a four year jail term as a result of her DWI conviction.

The article notes that only 21% of drivers sentenced on DWI cases have installed the interlock device in their cars, which is less than half of the interlock rate for drivers across New York State of 44%. Since Leandra’s Law went into effect, 2,562 operators In New York have been convicted of or pled guilty to DWI charges requiring the installation of the IID. However, data shows that of that number, only 528 drivers have installed the interlock. According to City officials, many people transfer the title of their car to a friend or relative to avoid the law. Others claim that they have sold or taken their cars off the road. Charles Fuschillo, the Chairman of the State Senate Transportation Committee, who was a co-sponsor of the legislation, noted that the committee is considering new legislation which would require that a driver who had a previous DWI would have to install an IID the next time they registered a car.

If a driver tampers with an IID, attempts to have someone else blow into the device for him or her, or in any way violates the interlock requirements, this is a misdemeanor, with a potential sentence of up to one year in jail and fines.

Those convicted of DWI must install and maintain the IID at their own cost unless they can establish to the satisfaction of the Court through an extensive financial disclosure form that they cannot do so, in which case the local county will pay the expense.

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For the second month in a row, a Dallas Cowboys lineman was charged in a DWI accident case. On January 22nd, defensive lineman Jay Ratliff was driving his 2011 Ford pickup truck in Grapevine, Texas, when he apparently struck a semitrailer truck as he was changing lanes. Ratliff’s truck then turned sideways and struck a median before coming to a stop. Neither Mr. Ratliff nor the driver of the semitrailer were injured.

Police claimed that Mr. Ratliff failed field sobriety tests at the scene. Reports from the arresting officer Eric Barch state that Ratliff had a “moderate odor” of alcohol on his breath and blood shot, watery eyes. Ratliff refused to take a chemical test of his blood, but the police obtained a warrant to do so. Purportedly, the blood test revealed a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.16%, which is twice the Texas limit (as it is in New York) of 0.08%.

Ratliff was charged with DWI. There was no report as to his Court date. Fortunately, there were no injuries in the Ratliff accident, but tragically, the same cannot be said for the December 8, 2012 accident involving Josh Brent. Brent, a 24 year old nose tackle, was behind the wheel with his friend, college teammate and Cowboys practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown, when he lost control of his 2007 Mercedes S60 on Highway 114 in Irving Texas. Reports indicated that Brown was speeding, the vehicle stuck a curb, flipped several times, and skidded approximately 300 yards, the equivalent of 3 football fields.

When police arrived, Brent was pulling Brown out of the burning car. The two had been teammates for three years at the University of Illinois. Ironically, Brent pled guilty to a DUI in 2009 while in college. He was pulled over near the Illinois campus and arrested for DUI, driving with a suspended license, and speeding. He was sentenced to 60 days in prison, 200 hours of community service and two years probation. He was also ordered to attend a Victim’s Impact panel, which in New York is sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

All NFL players have a “safe ride program” service on their union card, by which they can be picked up anywhere in the United States or Canada for an hourly fee of $85.00. However, with the spate of recent drunk driving arrests of Michael Turner, David Diehl and Justin Blackmon, along with those of Brent and Ratliff, it appears that the players are not availing themselves of the service.

Brent was charged with one count of intoxication manslaughter, which is a second degree felony in Texas. If convicted, he could be sentenced to between 2 and 20 years in prison, a $10,000 fine and could also be sentenced to probation. He is free on bond of $100,000 and must wear an alcohol monitor.

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In an effort to crack down on drivers who have multiple DWI convictions, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles announced on September 25, 2012 a series of new, and much more stringent regulations, for repeat offenders. The most significant of these changes is for those drivers who have committed five or more alcohol or drug related offenses while they have been licensed drivers. Under the new regulations, these drivers would lose their license permanently, with no opportunity to regain driving privileges.

Similarly, drivers who have three or more alcohol or drug related offenses within 25 years, as well as one other serious traffic violations, such as being involved in a fatal crash or being assessed 20 points on their license within the least 25 years, would also be subject to immediate and permanent revocation of their driver’s license.

Under current DMV regulations, even if a driver has been convicted of multiple alcohol or drug offenses, he or she will not permanently lose his or her license. For example, based upon present law, a driver convicted of three alcohol or drug related driving offenses during a four year time frame, or four convictions within an eight year period, will in all likelihood lose his license for five years, and thereafter could apply to be re-licensed. Presently, in order for a driver to be assessed a permanent revocation of his or her license, this usually involves two alcohol convictions connected with serious personal injury accidents.

The new regulations also affect re licensing procedures. For drivers with 3 or 4 alcohol or drug related convictions, but no serious driving violation within the last 25 years, who are seeking to have their licenses reinstated after revocation, the DMV will deny their application for five years beyond their statutory revocations period if they commit an alcohol or drug offense. After the additional time period, the applicant will be eligible for a restricted license to drive to and from work, school and for medical or hospital treatment. Further, if the applicant’s license is reinstated, they must install and maintain an ignition interlock device in any vehicle they own or operate for five years.

The DMV has been pushing for the more stringent regulations based on their reported data that approximately 17,500 licensed drivers who have at least three DWI convictions have been involved in at least one fatal accident or accident which caused serious injury after those convictions. According to the DMV, more than 50,000 drivers with valid or suspended licenses have 3 or more alcohol or drug related convictions since they have been driving, and 15,000 of these operators have had three or more alcohol or drug related convictions in the past twenty years. Annually, more than 300 people are killed and more than 6,000 suffer injury in alcohol-related crashes, and the DMV reports that since 2005, there has been a 6% increase in accidents involving a driver that has already been involved in 3 or more alcohol related crashes.

It is anticipated that as a direct result of the new regulations, approximately 20,000 drivers will have their licenses permanently revoked or their licensing will be postponed to meet the new requirements.

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As has been widely reported by now, Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy and ex-wife of Governor Andrew Cuomo, is charged with Driving While Ability Impaired By Drugs in the North Castle Town Court on July 13, 2012. The charges were filed after an accident with a tractor-trailer in I-684 southbound when Ms. Kennedy was allegedly driving her 2008 Lexus 350 erratically and struck a tractor-trailer on I-684 southbound near Exit 4 in Mount Kisco after appearing to fall asleep at the wheel. Ms. Kennedy is then accused of leaving the scene and being found slumped over her steering wheel by a North Castle police officer with a flat tire.

Initially, Ms. Kennedy was reported to have informed North Castle police officers that she might have taken an Ambien instead of Synthroid, a medication prescribed for people who have either a hyperactive or hypoactive thyroid. However, after her arraignment and plea of not guilty to the charges against her, Ms. Kennedy stated in a news conference that she was informed by her physicians that she may have suffered a partial seizure due to a prior head injury, which was purportedly seen on abnormal radiological test results, including an electroencephalogram (EEG).

Kennedy has since acknowledged that blood tests which her attorneys immediately reported as being negative, did show “traces” of Ambien in her blood. Under these circumstances, if the evidence against Ms. Kennedy was limited to evidence of drugs in her system, (and she had not had another DWI within 5 years), Ms. Kennedy would be eligible for a conditional license, which would allow her to drive to and from work, doctor’s appointments and Court mandated activities while her license is suspended.

However, with Ms. Kennedy’s own statements during a press conference that she suffered a partial seizure, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles could suspend Ms. Kennedy’s license and not permit her to obtain a conditional license, until she is able to establish that her seizures are under control. The DMV issued a statement as follows: “The DMV suspends the driver’s license until a physician provides a certification that the condition is treated or controlled and does not affect driving skills.”

Therefore, the more prudent course might have been not to make any public statements until the blood test results were available. Ms. Kennedy is due back in Court on August 14, 2012 for further proceedings in the case. Undoubtedly, there have been some negotiations between her attorneys and the Westchester District Attorney’s Office, but with the high profile nature of this case, along with the fact that Ms. Kennedy was involved in an accident and left the scene thereafter, this case is not likely to resolve immediately.

If Kennedy is convicted of the DWAID charge, she would face a six month revocation of her driver’s license; a $500.00 fine and mandatory New York State surcharge of $400.00; have to install and maintain an ignition interlock device in any vehicle she owns or operates for one year; be screened for alcohol and/or substance abuse; be required to attend a 7 week Drinking Driver Program sponsored by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (known as the “DDP”), and also have to attend one session of a MADD Victim Impact Panel. Further, she would be facing an additional fine of $750.00 known as a “Driver’s Responsibility Assessment” from the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles.

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Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy and ex-wife of Governor Andrew Cuomo, was charged on July 13th with DWAID, or driving while ability impaired by drugs in Armonk, New York. The charges stem from an incident at approximately 8:00 AM on July 13, 2012 when Kennedy was allegedly driving her 2008 Lexus 350 erratically and struck a tractor-trailer on I-684 southbound near Exit 4 in Mount Kisco. Supposedly, Ms. Kennedy then left the scene and exited the highway at Exit 3 on Route 22, where she was found with a flat tire, slumped over her steering wheel, by a North Castle police officer.

Reports say that Ms. Kennedy failed the 3 Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, including the nystagmus test, walk and turn, and one leg stand. The District Attorney’s Office states that Ms. Kennedy informed the investigating officer that she had taken an Ambien before driving. Ms. Kennedy has alleged that she may have had a seizure at the time of the accident, and has stated that she has no memory of anything from the time she entered 684 until a police officer was at her car door and began asking her questions.

Preliminary reports show that Ms. Kennedy had no alcohol in her system, but although she and her attorney have claimed that drugs tests were also negative, this would seem to be premature, as laboratory reports are usually not available within 4 days of a DWI charge. Ms. Kennedy is charged with the misdemeanor of DWAID, and it possible that she could also be charged with leaving the scene of a property damage accident under section 600 (1) (a) of the New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law, which is a traffic infraction and not a crime.

Ms. Kennedy was arraigned on July 17, 2012 in North Castle Town Court and pled not guilty to the charges against her. If she were convicted of the DWAID charge, she would face a six month revocation of her driver’s license; a $500.00 fine and mandatory New York State surcharge of $400.00; be required to install and maintain an ignition interlock device (IID) in any vehicle she owned or operated for one year; be screened for alcohol and/or substance abuse, be required to attend a 7 week Drinking Driver Program sponsored by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (known as the “DDP”), and also be required to attend a Victim Impact Panel. Further, she would be facing an additional fine of $750.00 known as a “Driver’s Responsibility Assessment” from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Ms. Kennedy was ordered to be evaluated for alcohol and drug abuse and fingerprinted by Town Justice Elyse Lazansky. She is due back in Court on August 14, 2012.

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John Goodman, the Florida multimillionaire who was found guilty of DUI manslaughter in March of this year, was sentenced to 16 years in jail and a $10,000 fine by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath on May 11, 2012. In sentencing Goodman, Colbath noted that his motivation after the accident occurred was only “to save himself”, and not to assist the victim Scott Wilson, who died in the accident.

Colbath denied the application of Goodman for a new trial after his March 23, 2012 conviction for vehicular homicide and DUI manslaughter. (In Florida it is known as DUI Manslaughter, which means driving under the influence, rather than driving while intoxicated in New York State). As we originally reported in March, the accident which killed 23 year old engineer Scott Wilson occurred on February 12, 2010 when Goodman’s Bentley passed through a stop sign and broad sided Wilson’s vehicle at approximately 63 miles per hour. Wilson’s car flipped over and was apparently pushed into a canal by Goodman’s car. The prosecution was able to prove that Goodman’s BAC (blood alcohol concentration) at the time of the crash was .177%, more than double the legal limit of 0.08%.

Goodman’s attorneys initially moved for a new trial based on the statements of one juror, Michael St. John, who alleged that he was pressured into the decision to find Goodman guilty in Wilson’s death. However, the prosecution argued successfully to Judge Colbath that these statements were too late, as when the jury originally announced its verdict, Mr. St. John indicated his agreement with the verdict and did not claim that he had been pressured. In denying the new trial motion, the judge stated: “To allow such decisions to be attacked months or even years after the close of a case because a juror experiences post-verdict regret would open our trial system to a virtual onslaught of attacks from dissatisfied parties and jurors.”

There was then a second application by Goodman’s attorneys for a new trial, as the result of the publication last week of a book by another juror, Dennis DeMartin, entitled “Believing In The Truth.” In the book, DeMartin reveals that during the case, before deliberations began, he engaged in an experiment in which he drank three vodkas the night before the jury deliberated to determine what impact this would have on his driving. Goodman had testified during the trial that he had only three drinks before the fatal crash, which would seem to be belied by the evidence that his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was noted to be .177%, more than double the legal limit.

During preliminary instructions to the jury, judges generally inform the jurors that they should not read, listen to, or attempt to obtain any external evidence, including returning to crime scenes or reenacting any elements of an event. Judge Colbath, an experienced jurist, undoubtedly gave the jurors an instruction to avoid any external evidence during the pendency of the case, but DeMartin has claimed that he didn’t recall Judge Colbath instructing the jurors not to conduct any experiments. Based upon DeMartin’s allegations about the drinking experiment he performed, Goodman’s attorneys asked that the guilty verdict be tossed out as a result of what they claimed was a clear case of juror misconduct, stating “Mr. DeMartin flagrantly violated this Court’s instructions not to engage in personal investigations into the facts…” However, Judge Colbath rejected this second application for a new trial as well.

Although it is rare, there have been cases in which a verdict was thrown out due to juror experiments. For example, in 1986 in California in a case involving defendant Johnny Ramon Castro, a juror used binoculars to confirm the accuracy of the testimony of a prison guard who had testified that be viewed the defendant with binoculars during a prison riot. The verdict was overturned, despite the fact that the judge in the Castro case never specifically instructed the jurors not to conduct experiments, which Judge Colbath did do in the Goodman case.

Goodman could have faced up to 30 years in prison. He has been released on seven million dollar bond while his appeal is pending. Goodman is on house arrest, will be monitored with a GPS device, is not permitted to apply for a passport and his driver’s license has been permanently revoked.

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