Readers commenting on today’s story about Lary Coppola’s court appearance Thursday in Pierce County District Court on DUI charges had questions I will attempt to address, having spoken with DUI defense attorney Linda Callahan.
Callahan has offices in Seattle, Shelton and other Puget Sound locations, and she is the author of the Washington DUI Practice Manual, a tome that is updated annually and referenced by defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges.
Callahan, obviously, could not comment on Coppola’s case specifically. Her responses were to my questions about DUI law in general and a “hypothetical case” (my quote marks).
Mojo7 asked, “Had the police officer actually SEEN him DRIVING or had he just been walking outside his parked car?”
As reporter Josh Farley wrote on May 3, “Shortly after 1:30 a.m., officers found Coppola seated in a silver Mini Cooper, according to Port Orchard police reports.”
The underlying question seems to be, “Is it a crime to be sitting in one’s car in an intoxicated condition?”
“It depends. It can be,” said Clallahan, spoken like a true attorney. “It depends on whether a person is in actual physical control of the car.”
Questions attorneys on both sides might ask to prove or refute the question of control: was there a witness? Was the car running? Was the transmission engaged? And so on.
On one point Clallahan was clear: simply the fact of being in one’s driveway does not put you in the clear of being charged with DUI. Conceivably, she said, one could have attended a party, had a few drinks, driven home without incident, realized one forgot one’s cell phone in the car, went to fetch it, the law pulls up for whatever reason, and, depending on other circumstances and evidence, one could be charged with DUI.
Several people, commenting on the story, suggested Coppola was getting off easy, despite repeated protests he expected no special treatment as a public official.
To recap, the hypothetical defendant I described to Callahan has no criminal history or prior driving offenses.
The defendant pleaded not guilty to the DUI charge but agreed to a “pretrial diversion,” which is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant.
Under conditions of the diversion, the defendant agreed:
1. To undergo a chemical dependency evaluation, attend a drug and alcohol information class and listen to a DUI victims’ panel.
2. He must pay $866 in court costs, a $200 bench probation fee and $150 to the Washington State Patrol for its emergency response the night of the incident.
3. The defendant is to remain clear of any violations for two years, at which time the charge will be reduced to first-degree negligent driving (that’s why he’s not pleading guilty to the DUI).
4. The judge did not require the defendant to have an interlock device on his car.
5. His not prohibited from drinking, but the judge advised the defendant to “be very careful about any use of alcohol.”
In a case like this, Callahan said, “That is a standard disposition. That is not a special case scenario.”
Clallahan specifically remarked on the standard-ness of a couple aspects of the judge’s ruling, including the diversion itself for a first-time offender and the lack of an interlock requirement.
The hypothetical defendant, as court records showed, had already completed several terms of the diversion agreement, including the chemical dependency evaluation. If the evaluation had shown the subject was an alcoholic or had a problem with alcohol, an interlock device unquestionably would have been required, Callahan said.
As for condition 5, allowing for reasonable alcohol consumption, Callahan said that, too, was typical in a hypothetical case like this. The prosecutor would have been able to review results of the drug and alcohol evaluation before refraining from adding a total prohibition on consumption. If the assessment of a defendant shows they have a problem with alcohol, such a prohibition is a given, Callahan said.
On a final note, the diversion is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant; it is the judge’s role to accept or reject it.
Chris Henry, reporter