Barry Rejects Offer, Maintains Innocence

Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) faces charges from two traffic stops last year.
Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) faces charges from two traffic stops last year. (By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)
By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 3, 2007

A D.C. Superior Court judge set a June 12 trial date yesterday for D.C. Council member Marion Barry on several traffic offenses -- charges that Barry and his attorney insist are unfounded.

Barry (D-Ward 8), a former D.C. mayor, has rejected an offer from prosecutors to plead guilty to operating a motor vehicle while impaired in an incident in which police said they detected the smell of alcohol. Had he accepted the offer, prosecutors would have dropped the other charges, including the more serious offense of driving under the influence. Prosecutors also would have dropped charges in connection with a subsequent traffic stop.

But in a hearing yesterday morning, Barry's attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., told Magistrate Judge Milton C. Lee that there is little common ground between the D.C. attorney general's office and the defense and that a deal is unlikely.

"He can't plead guilty to an offense he didn't commit," Cooke said.

The charges against Barry, who stood next to his attorney during the brief hearing, stem from two traffic stops last year in the District.

In the first incident, Barry was pulled over Sept. 10 by uniformed Secret Service officers near the White House after allegedly running a red light. Police said he smelled of alcohol, and Barry was asked to take a breathalyzer test. An initial test came in below the legal limit, but officers said they wanted to conduct a urine test for alcohol, Cooke said in an interview. Barry declined to provide a urine sample, and according to Cooke, he said he was willing to take another breath test, which police chose not to administer.

The officers charged Barry with driving under the influence, which can be done when a driver refuses the urine test. But Cooke said that the officers should have given Barry another breath test unless they documented some reason why they could not. Absent that, Cooke said, all they have to stand on is Barry's .02 reading, which is below the legal limit.

"The only objective data says that he was not intoxicated," Cooke said.

Traci L. Hughes, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the officers had the discretion to demand that Barry submit to a different type of test and the authority to charge him when he did not. Barry also was charged with misuse of temporary tags and operating an unregistered vehicle.

The second episode was Dec. 16, when Barry was stopped by U.S. Park Police officers in Southeast Washington for driving too slowly. Police said that Barry's license was suspended; he insisted that it was valid and that the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles verified it. The attorney general's office did not charge him with driving without a license.

Prosecutors did, however, file other charges against Barry, including misuse of temporary tags and operating an unregistered vehicle. In both incidents, Barry was driving a loaner vehicle while his car was being repaired.

Cooke said Barry did not know that there was a problem with the registration of the vehicle and therefore did nothing wrong.

"It's undue harassment," Barry said after the hearing. "They know they don't have a case."

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