Circuit judge is acquitted in drunken-driving case

Improper handling of breath test found

December 21, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

A Baltimore County judge accused of driving drunk in Harford County in October was acquitted after the judge hearing the case threw out the results of a breath test on technical violations.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Lawrence R. Daniels apologized in court Wednesday for his actions on the evening of his arrest, defense attorney Raphael J. Santini said yesterday.

The judge was stopped about 1:30 on a Sunday morning after a sheriff's deputy saw a sedan southbound on Route 152 near Joppa cross the shoulder line several times.

After failing a field sobriety test, Daniels was arrested and taken to a police precinct, where a Breathalyzer test measured his blood-alcohol level at 0.09 percent, according to a police report. The state's legal limit for motorists is 0.08 percent.

A Baltimore district judge who heard the case against Daniels in Harford County ruled that the Breathalyzer results were inadmissible because the sheriff's deputies administering the test did not ask Daniels to sign the consent forms until after he had submitted to the test, lawyers in the case said.

District Judge Christopher Panos also found that the deputies did not follow the proper procedures in administering the test when they left the room to give Daniels a few minutes with his lawyer in private.

State toxicology guidelines require that police observe drunken-driving suspects for 20 minutes before they take a Breathalyzer test, lawyers in the case said.

In the hours after Daniels' arrest, officers left the room to allow the judge to speak privately with a lawyer, an accommodation not usually made for drunken-driving suspects, Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly said.

"They thought they were bending over backwards to be nice and allow the guy to consult with an attorney. That messed the test up," he said. "This is what you get for trying to be a nice guy instead of just following the procedures."

The judge hearing the case also determined that officers improperly circled two charges rather than one on a traffic citation issued to Daniels, lawyers in the case said.

Without the results of the breath test as evidence and the improperly filled out ticket, Panos found Daniels not guilty of one count of driving while impaired and two counts of driving under the influence of alcohol, lawyers in the case said.

Daniels, 60, of Middle River was an associate judge on Baltimore County's District Court for four years before being named to the Circuit Court bench in 1993. Altogether, he has been a judge for 18 years.

Through a staff member who works in his chambers, Daniels declined to comment on the case yesterday.

jennifer.mcmenamin@balt sun.com

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