According to Paula Downing, when officers found her passed out in her car, crookedly parked in the local jail parking lot, she hadn’t actually been drinking and driving. Instead, she claims, she had arrived at the jail sober, and then proceeded to drink until she passed out while sitting in her car. The jury, however, didn’t buy that version of events.
The story according to Bay County Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Latocki is this: In the early hours of the morning, he noticed a Chevrolet Impala in the Jail parking lot. The vehicle was parked poorly, and was running. When he approached the vehicle, he discovered Downing passed out behind the wheel.
With the help of other deputies, Latocki woke Downing up and removed her from her car. The incident report from that night says that Downing smelled strongly of alcohol, and appeared to be intoxicated. At the time she is said to have told the officers that she had had enough to drink, and didn’t feel that it would be safe for her to drive home.
After her arrest, officers took two blood alcohol content readings, the first of which came in at .17 and the second one, taken three minutes later, registered at .16. Downing also did poorly on the roadside sobriety tests that she was asked to perform. Officers found an unopened eighteen-pack of Busch light, and a bottle of rum that was three quarters empty in her car.
Downing’s trial for drunk driving, second offense, took place in the Bay County District Court before Judge Mark E. Janer. Her attorney, Brian Jean, presented the theory that she had driven sober to the jail, and then consumed the alcohol while parked there, in the parking lot. But after six hours of deliberation, it appears that the jury didn’t believe it.
Downing was convicted on a single charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, second offense. Under Michigan law this is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. But Downing’s attorney is not satisfied with the outcome.
He says that both he and his client respect the jury’s decision, but that they disagree with the findings. Jean says that he understands why the jury came to the conclusions that they did, but he feels that it is the result of having incomplete information. This, Jean claims, was because of motions made during the trial that prevented the defense from sharing all of the relevant information with the jury. An appeal process, Jean feels, will allow all of the facts to be known. It remains to be seen how this will all pan out.