Last week Seattle Police Officer Marie Gochnour pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of Reckless Driving from the original offense of DUI. The sentence imposed was 2 days in jail along with the other standard DUI conditions. All this after Officer Gouchnour registered an impressive .25 breath test, which in case you don’t know is more than 3 times the legal limit. So how did this happen especially in this day and age when Washington State is getting tough on DUIs.
Well in case you’re not familiar with the facts of this case is was pretty interesting. It involved 2 Seattle Police Officers, a 911 call, a collision, and one driver switching seats with another and then driving off. Seems like a pretty straight forward DUI case, huh? Aside from the SPD officers. A breath test 3 times over the legal limit, a car accident, an eye witness who can identify the vehicle and the driver, along with the usual signs of impairment (odor, slurred speech, watery blood shot eyes, poor coordination, etc).
So what happened? From what I gather it appears the City of Seattle was unable to locate the 911 caller. I went back through the police report and sure enough the 911 caller refused to provide detailed contact information. Why does this matter you ask? Because a civilian witness called 911 to report this accident there wer no other witnesses to the accident, no other witnesses to who the driver was, and no other witnesses about the old switcharoo between the driver and passenger.
Without this witness there was no basis for the police to contact the driver. Without his testimony then there becomes significant problems with the initial contact by the responding officers. So despite all the seemingly insurmountable evidence against Officer Gochnour she really lucked out. The other Officer involved in the accident will probably get offered a plea deal too. Although his BAC level was not nearly as high as Officer Gochnour’s, it was still twice over the legal limit.
Some may say this is really unfair. Here is this woman who blew over 3 times the legal limit. She tried to fool the police by switching seats with the passenger. She was a complete B?tch to the arresting Officers, and seemingly went out of her way to avoid taking any kind of responsibility by denying she was the driver. She then gets the benefit of a reduced charge when someone who barely blew over the legal limit, who was cordial and polite with the arresting Officer, and was honest about their actions don’t get offered such a deal. As a DUI Lawyer this is sometimes hard to explain to clients and even harder to accept when you’re on the other end of the “no deal” negotiation.