In State v. G.H., St. Lucie County Case No.: 2009CT4328A, the Defendant was returning home late one evening after having dropped a new friend he’d met at their residence. As G.H. was a student in the Treasure Coast, he was not entirely familiar with the layout of roads, and was unable to negotiate the route home from the friend he dropped off.
As a result of a wrong turn, he found himself surrounded by rural St. Lucie County, at the end of a dirt road bordered by a canal. While attempting to accomplish a three point turn, the back of G.H.’s oversized truck crashed into the canal, and was situated in such a way that G.H. was unable to extract himself from the water.
As G.H. was in a remote location, and cell phone coverage was “spotty”, he was unable to contact any of his acquaintances by cellphone, and in desperation, called 911.
It took the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office approximately 30 minutes to reach G.H.’s location, and when they arrived, one of the responding deputies claimed he smelled the “odor of an alcoholic beverage” on G.H.’s breath. The cops decided to “investigate further”, and requested G.H. to engage in a series of “Field Sobriety Exercises”. Although G.H. told the police he had sustained serious back injuries while playing football in college, the police insisted that he “go ahead and give them a try anyways”. After performing the exercises, law enforcement elected to arrest G.H. and charge him with DUI.
G.H. was in the process of graduating, and already had obtained employment with a solid company with good salary and benefits. A DUI conviction could have affected G.H.’s administrative license as well as his new job.
G.H. retained the law firm of JJK/LLC, who immediately issued a public records request to the the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s office for all “surveillance films” from the jail taken on the night of G.H.’s arrest. (These films typically are destroyed within 30 to 60 days, and are NOT given to the State Attorney’s Office—so most law firms lose access to this important piece of evidence). The film was shown to the jury at G.H.’s trial, and allowed the jury to see that he G.H. was able to walk, talk and interact with the Sheriff’s Deputies at the jail without any difficulty—contrary to the intentionally difficult-to-perform field sobriety exercises G.H. had been persuaded into attempting out in the field.
Kirschner also filed a rare corpus delicti motion, which attempted to have the trial court dismiss the case prior to trial. Although the trial denied the motion in a lengthy opinion, the issue would have made an outstanding appellate issue had the jury come back with the wrong answer.
Fortunately they didn’t, and instead returned to the courtroom with a pronouncement of “Not Guilty”.