Washington Redskins running back John Riggins is fighting a charge of being drunk in public because he wants to dispel any impression that he has a drinking problem, his attorney said yesterday.
"John, like anybody else who's in professional football, goes out with other persons and enjoys himself, but he always controls his drinking and the drinking does not control him and that's the difference," said attorney Jerry M. Phillips.
Riggins was arrested last July on the misdemeanor charge along with his friend, Stuart Miller, who was charged with driving while intoxicated. Miller was acquitted last September of the misdemeanor charge. Riggins, 36, is scheduled to appear today at General District Court in Fairfax County.
Miller, 40, a co-owner of Dixie Liquors in Georgetown, was driving Riggins home at about 1:50 a.m. on July 25 when his car was pulled over in Reston and he was arrested by a Fairfax County police officer. The officer said Miller was weaving, did not lower his beams when the officer flicked his lights at him and made a left turn from a right-hand lane. Riggins was arrested after he got out of the car.
Phillips said yesterday that "the great deal of publicity for what we believe to be a most minor charge" had left the impression that Riggins may have a drinking problem and "that is just not the case."
"For him it's important to have the whole matter viewed by a court and that's all we're asking," said Phillips. "If it had been anyone else, such as a person like myself or any other citizen, the case would probably mean very little. But to someone in the public light, the fact that he's charged raises many embellishments and exaggerations of what happened."
Phillips declined yesterday to comment on the facts of the case, but last October he filed a pre-trial motion to suppress the evidence in the case, stating there was a lack of probable cause for Riggins to be arrested. That motion, contending the arrest was invalid, is expected to be heard in court today. Phillips also has said Miller and Riggins were arrested because the officer knew Riggins was in the car.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Sarah Deneke, who is prosecuting the case, also declined to discuss the facts in the case, but added: "It's set for trial . . . and we're ready to go."
According to Virginia law, Deneke said, someone can be charged with being drunk in public, which carries a maximum fine of $100, if they profanely curse, swear or are drunk in public.
People typically post $30 at the time of their arrest, Deneke said, but there are some who don't post the money and don't show up at court and are found guilty in their absence and fined. Deneke said that people occasionally will go to trial and fight the charge, but for most it's not worth the expense.