Lawyers for Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) filed detailed legal arguments yesterday supporting their request for a jury trial on three traffic charges, including one for driving while intoxicated, lodged against the congressman by Montgomery County police. County prosecutors are opposing Stokes' request that a jury, rather than a judge, try him on the charges, which Stokes has denied.
Asserting that the March 25 traffic incident "has generated more press on both a national and local scale than any driving-while-intoxicated case in history," Stokes' lawyers argued that he is entitled to be tried by a jury of his peers because of the seriousness of the charge and the fact that Stokes, as a congressman, is subject to "extreme public scrutiny."
Traffic charges normally are tried by a judge in the District Court, which handles less serious crimes. But a defendant has a right to a jury trial in Circuit Court, where felony cases are normally tried, if the charge against him carries a penalty of 90 days or more in jail. Driving while intoxicated carries a maximum one-year penalty.
However, to prevent the courts from being clogged by jury requests, the Maryland legislature passed a law that a judge may deny the request if prosecutors attest that they will not seek a sentence of 90 days or more.
Assistant State's Attorney Ann Harrington said in the Stokes' case, "We're not intending to seek a jail sentence . . . and we don't see any possibility of him receiving one." Therefore, they will oppose Stokes' request for trial by jury as they would in any such case, Harrington said. "We want to see a prompt resolution of the matter, and the appropriate use of resources to resolve it," she added.
Stokes' lawyers, Thomas L. Heeney and R. Kenneth Mundy, argued that the state law allowing a judge to deny a jury trial is unconstitutional.
A hearing on Stokes' request has been scheduled for Tuesday.
The charges against Stokes stem from an incident March 25 when Stokes allegedly failed three roadside sobriety tests after he was stopped by police in Wheaton.