Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) was fined $250 in Montgomery County Circuit Court yesterday for driving while under the influence of alcohol on March 25. The congressman also was ordered to pay court costs totaling $70, but was not fined for running a red light, one of the two charges on which he had been convicted last month.
The 58-year-old chairman of the House Ethics Committee, who faced a maximum sentence of $1,000 in fines and two months in jail, was stopped by county police on Randolph Road in Wheaton while on his way home from a late-night session of Congress.
Police officers said that he had driven on the wrong side of the street, run a red light and failed three roadside sobriety tests. Stokes testified during his four-day trial that he had had two glasses of wine that night and was sober when police stopped him.
After hearing Circuit Judge William M. Cave reject three separate defense arguments for a new trial, Stokes asked to be given probation before judgment, a sentence commonly given first offenders who plead guilty to driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Under that type of sentence, a defendant can receive a fine and other punishment, but is left with no criminal record and no points on his driver's license. In return, the defendant waives the right of appeal.
"I still feel that I am innocent of this matter," Stokes told Cave. But "it would not be in my best interests, or the interests of my constituents" to continue the legal battle, he added, explaining: "It's important for me to get this matter behind me and get it out of the newspapers. It's become a national media event."
But Cave rejected Stokes's request, saying that probation before judgment could not be given without a presentence investigation and would not be proper in a conviction reached by a jury.
Defense attorneys had argued that the congressman should be given a new trial on the grounds that Cave's instructions to the jurors had left them confused, a videotaped reenactment by Stokes of the day leading up to his arrest improperly had been ruled inadmissible, and a juror had spoken with a prosecution witness during the trial.
After listening to the juror, Gerianne E. Bates of Rockville, describe what happened, Cave concluded that she merely had exchanged pleasantries with a police officer on behalf of an acquaintance who knew him, and there was no evidence that the conversation had influenced her decision.
Cave stuck by his earlier opinion that Stokes' reenactment, which concluded with a blood-alcohol test that defense attorneys said proved him sober, should not have been presented to the jury. And, while agreeing that the definition of driving while under the influence was difficult to grasp, Cave maintained that he had given proper instructions to the jury.
Yesterday, one official of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration described Stokes' $250 fine as heavy for a first offender. However, unlike most Maryland residents in a similar situation, Stokes will not have his license suspended: he uses an Ohio license and Frank Ryan, a spokesman for the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, said that the congressman's conviction in Maryland "does not affect his driving here."