U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), charged with drunk driving and related traffic offenses, was "fatigued and tired" after 21 hours of work and had only consumed two glasses of wine before his arrest March 25, defense attorneys argued yesterday in the first day of Stoke's trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Stokes, 58, was arrested in Wheaton at 2:15 a.m. after a police officer said he saw Stokes driving in the wrong lane of Randolph Road, make a U-turn, and drive through a red light. Stokes was released shortly afterward, police officials said at the time, because police believed he had congressional immunity. He was charged three weeks later.
Stokes' trial is expected to last until Friday or Monday, with defense lawyers calling more than a dozen witnesses. Most drunk-driving trials in Montgomery County last little more than a day, involving far fewer witnesses.
If convicted of driving while intoxicated, Stokes could be sentenced to up to one year in jail and receive a $1,000 fine. Prosecutors, however, have said they will not ask for a jail term. Stokes could be fined $500 if convicted of driving on the wrong side of the road, and another $500 fine if found guilty of running a red light.
Officer Henry L. Desibour III testified in a crowded courtroom yesterday that the chairman of the House ethics committee failed three roadside sobriety tests. Desibour said Stokes was asked to recite the alphabet, but missed the letters J and L, and stopped at W. He then staggered off the line he was asked to walk, and was unable to touch his nose with his finger while holding his head back, the officer said.
Desibour said he drove Stokes to the Wheaton police station, less than a minute away, where he was released. Desibour said Stokes asked if "something else could be worked out," but never raised the issue of congressional immunity.
Desibour said he telephoned Capitol Police to ask whether congressional immunity would apply, and was advised that it would, because Stokes apparently was driving home from a late-night session. The officer said his supervisors instructed him to set Stokes free, but not let him drive home.
Cross-examined by defense attorney R. Kenneth Mundy, Desibour said he "very possibly" told the Capitol Police inspector he spoke with that Stokes would have passed a chemical sobriety test anyway.
In his opening statement to the jury, Stokes' other attorney, Thomas Heeney, told jurors Stokes was driving northwest on Glenallan Avenue when he turned left onto Randolph Road, a six-lane street divided by a median. Stokes headed west in an east-bound lane, then made a U-turn when he realized his mistake and drove back to Randolph and Glenallan, Heeney said. Stokes stopped at the red light, Heeney said, but after about 15 seconds thought it was broken, and turned onto the correct side of Randolph.
Heeney called the roadside sobriety tests "subjective" and "picky," and said police had broken the law by not "affording Stokes adequate opportunity" to take a breathalyzer sobriety test. He said Stokes' eyes were red because of an allergy.
Stokes was charged three weeks later, Heeney said, when he told prosecutors to charge him if they had enough evidence.