Last Update: 1:45 p.m.
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The jury has been excused to its deliberation room to decide County Administrator Joe Baird’s fate in his DUI trial. When the jury will come out with a decision is unknown.
Both the prosecution and defense implored the jury to come back with the verdict each side wants during their respective closing arguments.
Defense attorney Bobby Guttridge compared the DUI trial of Baird to the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. “If you want to find evidence of somebody doing something wrong, you can do it,” Guttridge said.
But he explained that in the modern legal system, there is a burden of proof beyond and to the exclusion of any reasonable doubt to prevent the mistakes, which occurred in the witch trials. He said the law enforcement officers made a rush to judgment in Baird’s case and then proceeded to obtain evidence to back up that judgment.
Guttridge accused the law enforcement officers of testifying “in a way that validates our conclusions and that’s what happened here.”
He said officers do not contradict each other and that they “want to be right.” He accused Officer Jeff Bryson of slanting the evidence and Cpl. Huddy of lying.
Guttridge explained that DUI cases are difficult because, he said, they are subjective and somewhat based on opinion, because drivers are allowed to drink, but not to the extent that they are impaired.
“It’s not black and white, it’s all kinds of grays,” Guttridge said.
Guttridge instructed the jury about what “normal faculties” are and tried to instill doubt that the faculties tested by the roadside sobriety exercises – which Baird failed, resulting in his arrest – are not normal, day-to-day activities, so therefore, are not fair tests.
“It doesn’t judge your normal faculties,” Guttridge said of the heel-to-toe walking the line exercise. “That exercise, in its very design, is to make you look silly.”
Guttridge then complained about the validity of the count backward from 44 to 29 test.
“I will grant you, Mr. Baird didn’t do a particularly good job,” Guttridge said. “Not because he was impaired by alcohol, it’s because it’s a difficult test to do.”
He said Baird should have been allowed to say or sing his ABCs instead, that the number test was unfair.
“They give you a test designed to trick you, they ask you to tilt your head back, close your eyes and keep both feet together,” Guttridge said.
Guttridge recounted the basic events of the traffic stop, with the angle that Baird was intimidated by police officers and that officers did not take into account Baird’s claim of vertigo and balance problems.
Guttridge admitted that the evidence on the video could be viewed as damaging.
“At first glance, I had that shame on you attitude, too,” Guttridge said.
But, he argued that Baird was under a great deal of pressure and cracked under that pressure, as evidenced in his poor performance on the videotaped tests, and that Baird did himself a disservice via his attitude toward the tests and the situation.
“It appears to me that he got somewhat defensive” Guttridge said, “and on some of the exercises, he didn’t give it the ‘old college try’.”
Guttridge brought up the balance issues Baird claims he has, too.
“We can tell there was a problem that was not based on alcohol,” he said.
The problems Baird was having were based on ongoing problems with vertigo, according to Guttridge. Guttridge asserted that there’s nothing wrong with going to a fundraiser and having a few alcoholic beverages, or with driving after having a few drinks.
He summarized the testimony of the witnesses and their testimony about their observations at the Youth Guidance fundraiser and the balance issues they have noticed or been aware of over the years.
Guttridge brought up the spilled drink in the car and suggested that the cup was what caused the strong smell of alcohol Lt Matt Harrelson smelled in the car. He also argued that there was confusion about Baird’s rights and on information provided to Baird about the possible penalties of refusing to give a breath sample at the police station.
Guttridge closed by explaining the standard of proof to the jury and urged them that if they have a doubt, they cannot convict.
“Because we can’t make mistakes, not when a man’s reputation is one the line,” he said.
Guttridge asked the jury to give Baird the benefit of the doubt.
The prosecution closed by saying that it is not the jury’s job to give “King Joe” the benefit of the doubt, but to look at the evidence and the exhibits and apply the law.
Dodd described the gut check that usually happens when someone who has been drinking gets behind the wheel.
“How much did I drink, when did I start drinking, did I have anything to eat and how do I feel?” Dodd said.
He said Baird took those same things into consideration when he made the choice to refuse to give a breath sample. He described DUI as a “selfish act” and explained why the standard is impairment, not falling down drunk.
To remind jurors of the impairment evidenced by the video of the roadside tests, Dodd replayed selected portions of the video.
“How does he look? He looks drunk,” Dodd said. “He can’t remember anything from moment to moment.”
Dodd noted that Baird brought up vertigo “before he is ever asked to do a balancing test” and said it’s an excuse.
Citing the statement “I can’t do that normally,” Dodd said that by adding the word “normally,” it means that there’s something abnormal at that time, and Dodd asserted that what’s abnormal is he’s been drinking.
In other parts of the video, Dodd pointed out that Baird could not follow the officer’s instructions, displaying signs of physical and mental impairment. He pinpointed swaying motions on the video, as taped from 30 feet away. After replaying the backward-counting exercise, Dodd recounted how Baird “slaughtered,” in the words of Lt. Harrelson, the test.
“If that’s not a sign of impairment, I don’t know what is,” Dodd said.
The judge will instruct you, “Did the witness have some interest in how this case comes out?” Dodd said.” If they don’t work directly for him, they do substantial work for the County. Every single one of the defense witnesses have an interest in how this case should be decided.”
Dodd urged the jurors to use common sense in deciding which evidence to consider and which witnesses are credible.
“He’s got serious balance problems, but as a hobby he likes to run,” Dodd said. “But wait, I’ve missed the best one, he likes to ride bikes. How do you have a balance problem and ride a bicycle?”
“The only evidence of vertigo in this case is a self-serving excuse,” Dodd said, at which point Guttridge objected and attorneys approached the bench. “The timing of the excuse is before he’s ever asked to balance anything, that’s how we know it’s an excuse.”
As to Baird’s normal mental faculties, Dodd said, “every one of his witnesses came up and said ‘he’s smart, of above-average intelligence’.”
To counter Guttridge’s argument that Baird was stressed out or intimidated by the situation and by the officers, Dodd stated the daily nature of Baird’s position as County Administrator.
“He has a stressful job, he deals with stress every day. This isn’t somebody who doesn’t deal with people in positions of authority,” Dodd said.
They didn’t tow his vehicle, that they let his girlfriend pick it up. They didn’t write a citation for the brake lights, they didn’t write a citation for the open container.
“They realized that they had a job to do and because they had a job to do they were going to be highly scrutinized,” Dodd said.
Dodd discounted the Salem Witch Trial analogy, saying that it would have been simple if there were a test that read “witch” or “no witch” and that’s what the breathalyzer does for DUI and alcohol.
“He should be begging them to give a breath sample,” Dodd said that Baird should have been. “I’m going to show you all I’ve got bad balance.”
“If I blow, the seven people in the jury box are going to know exactly how much I had to drink and he didn’t want you to know,” he said.