WILKES-BARRE – A city man who has been convicted of drunken driving three times escaped a fourth conviction Wednesday after a Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas jury acquitted him.

Thomas Green, 37, of Stanton Street, had refused to take a field sobriety test or submit to a blood alcohol test after his arrest on Blackman Street in Wilkes-Barre Township on March 3, according to an arrest affidavit.

Jurors deliberated for about one hour before acquitting Green of a single count of drunken driving. In a separate hearing after the trial, Judge Patrick Toole Jr. found Green guilty of driving with a DUI-related suspended license, careless driving and driving with an expired registration, all summary citations. Toole issued the ruling because jurors do not decide summary citations.

Green had convictions for drunken driving in 1990, 1995 and 1996. Had he been convicted Wednesday, he would have faced a mandatory minimum of one to two years in prison, said Assistant District Tim Doherty, who prosecuted the case.

Doherty said state law prevented him from mentioning Green’s prior convictions at the latest trial.

“It was a tough call. We put the best foot forward we could and put the evidence forward we could,” Doherty said. “These rules of evidence are pretty strict. You cannot convict someone for prior convictions.”

Blood tests are often a key part in drunken-driving prosecutions. But Doherty said he did not think Green’s refusal to submit to the test was a major factor in this case. “If he had taken it, we don’t know what the results were going to be.”

Wilkes-Barre Township police Sgt. Thomas Wardle said he saw Green’s vehicle weaving on Interstate 81 in the township and abruptly swerving on to the Blackman Street exit. Wardle stopped Green and observed that his speech was “extremely slurred” and that he staggered when he exited his vehicle, according to the affidavit.

Green’s attorney, Mark Mack of Kingston, said he thought a key factor in the acquittal was inconsistent testimony offered by Wardle.

Mack said Wardle testified he witnessed Green cross the center line six times. But he did not mention that in the arrest affidavit or at Green’s preliminary hearing Mack said.

Doherty defended the officer’s testimony, noting police are not required to include all information on an arrest in the affidavit. He acknowledged there were some inconsistencies in Wardle’s testimony, but overall, the officer provided strong evidence against Green, Doherty said.

“The police did a fine job. It’s just the jury in deliberations did not think there was enough. That does not mean (Green) is innocent. It means the Commonwealth did not sustain its burden beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Despite the acquittal on the most serious charge, Green faces a mandatory 90-day sentence for driving with a DUI – related suspended license. Toole said Green could seek to serve the sentence on home confinement. Green will also lose his driver’s license, already suspended, until 2004, for at least an additional two years for refusing to take the blood test and for driving with a suspended license Doherty said.

Courtesy of Times Leader
Written by Terrie Morgan-Besecker