Anatomy of a Successful DUI Defense
Ever wonder what makes a successful DUI defense, well, successful? Here's an almost perfect example.
The arrest of a high-profile sports executive at 4:30 in the morning after a party at the hedge fund maven (and NY Mets new owner) Steve Cohen’s house resulted in headlines and the loss of his job.
The NY press convicted him on the spot, they saw it as the latest in a long string of Mets scandals over the last few years.
Zach Scott, the Mets interim GM, left Steve Cohen’s house in Greenwich, Connecticut on Aug. 30, 2021. Six hours later he was ‘found’ in his car at the side of the road at an intersection about a block from the White Plains, NY police station. It was 4:30 am.
Two White Plains police officers pulled in behind him. They walked to the car, and “detected the smell of alcohol.” They had Scott step outside, and “conducted a standardized field sobriety test consisting of three tests. The horizontal gaze nystagmus (checking for jerking of the eyeballs which increases when someone is intoxicated, the walk-and-turn and the one-legged stand.”
According to the officers, Scott failed the tests. He did not have a breathalyzer in his car, but arrested Scott for DUI based solely on the field sobriety test. At the White Plains Police Station, Scott refused a breathalyzer.
Scott was arrested and booked for DUI, stopping on a highway, disobeying a traffic control device, and failing to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of a change of address.
The Mets, racked by front office scandals over the last few years, promptly fired Scott.
Scott was booked and released on a promise to appear. He immediately hired a law firm with years of experience with DUI cases, headed by an ex-prosecutor. They took the case to trial.
The trial was delayed twice by COVID issues. Par for the course these last few years.
When it finally started in January, the prosecutor “focused on the ‘totality of the circumstances.’” Scott was, she asserted, asleep in his car, there was a smell of alcohol in the car, he failed three field tests, he refused the breathalyzer.’
Pretty damning – if true.
Scott’s attorneys argued that Scott was not asleep, his head was down because he was reading the cell phone in his lap. Phone records would at least show that it was indeed on, whether he was reading or texting or whatever was up in the air,
When he was arrested he said he had had a couple of beers at least two hours earlier. That accounted for the alcohol odor.
Then they played the body-cam footage from both officers from the moment they stepped to the car through the field tests. They pointed out that that Scott followed their directions through all three tests without a problem, they ran and reran the film – from two angles – and left it to the court: did he really fail them?
The judge not only agreed with Scott’s attorneys, he went a few steps further saying, “Mr. Scott performed the tests in a manner in which no neutral observer would conclude he was drunk, especially to the point of intoxication.” He added that in his opinion no neutral observer could have performed the tests any better at 4:30 am. Any impairment that showed – and it wasn’t much – was most likely due to fatigue.
Scott was acquitted of the DUI charge and had to pay the traffic tickets – even through it could be argued that it’s impossible to be both stopped and disobeying a traffic signal.
Attorneys not familiar with DUI cases would probably have taken one look at the ‘totality of the circumstance’ and urged Scott to take a plea deal, disregarding the fact that a DUI conviction would have seriously, if not permanently, curtailed Scott’s baseball career. Still,
Scott’s attorney’s, however, not only knew DUI law inside and out, they knew the police, the prosecutor, and the court. They knew – a friend from that area explained to me – that White Plains cops didn’t much like people from the ‘rich towns.’ Scott's driver's license told the cops he lived in one. Scott’s lawyers knew not to take at face value the cops’ observations of a ‘rich guy from Rye.’
It's all about experience – with DUI laws, courts, judges, and the police. In this case, it made the difference. It salvaged Scott’s career.
After spending nearly two decades in the trenches, here's what I know: without protection from a skilled and aggressive attorney, regular folks don't stand a chance against overzealous police, prosecutors, and even judges.
Scott’s attorneys were skilled, aggressive, smart, and not intimidated by the police’s ‘evidence.’
All that you need for an acquittal.