Consider if you will the story of a police officer who while patrolling on a typical Wednesday night is forced to suddenly swerve to avoid another vehicle entering the roadway from a popular local bar. The officer follows the company car thankful that no one was injured or killed and in light of the near accident decides that the best course of action would be to pull the vehicle over and determine the driver's status.
Initially, the driver fails to respond to emergency lights and eventually weaves his way east in the west bound lanes of an adjacent street before coming to a stop. The officer observes a strong odor of alcohol and administers a series of field sobriety tests that result in failure. The driver is arrested and tested using a breath alcohol analyzer scoring a .15 - nearly double the legal limit. The officer considers the driver and his passengers lucky to be alive; the driver most like considers himself unlucky to be caught. The driver's intoxicated passengers find their own way home.
The stage is set as everyone heads to court. The case is heard but only the defense is allowed to present their case. The driver and one passenger take a polygraph that indicates they're telling the truth when they claim that they never saw the police vehicle behind him. The passengers testify that they never saw or almost hit a police vehicle. The judge finds for the defendant because the driver and his passengers couldn't have possibly almost hit a police vehicle that they never saw.
Sounds like the Twilight Zone but unfortunately it's the Judicial Zone at Metrocourt right here in Albuquerque. The case is a real one, the Judge is Judge Victor Valdez, and the case number DW62407.
According to our Eyes Judge Valdez found for the defendant Scott Lawrence based on a polygraph that only confirmed Mr. Lawrence never saw the police vehicle he almost hit and the testimony of his passengers who were admittedly intoxicated at the time. Never mind the fact that Mr. Lawrence blew a .15 and by all legal standards was intoxicated at the time of his arrest.
Look we're not an attorney and we're certainly not a judge, but wouldn't the fact that the defendant and his passenger's testimony that they didn't observe the police vehicle even after almost hitting it support the officer's probable cause? It sounds to us like Judge Valdez used a theory similar to the judge in the movie Tombstone who dismissed a murder case on the theory that "you can't have a murder if you don't have a witness."
Our Eyes tell us that the DA's office has filed a motion for the judge to reconsider his decision in the case based at least partially on the fact that the state never got the opportunity to present its case. We're not experts in jurisprudence, but we're pretty sure that judicial theory includes the idea that both the defense and the prosecution are given the opportunity to present their case.
We understand that Linda Atkinson has heard about this case and is well... pretty MADD about it. Frankly, we're a bit miffed as well. The system may be boring and there's got to be a temptation to short circuit the process especially where friends are involved however, the judicial system can only function if the public has faith in its impartiality and its efficacy.
Unfortunately stories like this are more common than we'd like to believe, but because they affect only a very few people judges are rarely held accountable. According to our Eyes, Judge Valdez has aspirations to higher office specifically District Court. In our opinion, he's already in over his judicial head. It's also time that we keep a more careful Eye on Metrocourt and the judges whose everyday decisions all too often go unnoticed.
You can reach Judge Valdez by dialing 841-8263 or 841-8264. Perhaps it would do the judge some good to hear from someone residing outside of The Judicial Zone.
All right, we got a little too creative in this post, for that we apologize. We shall now attempt to put the story in a nut shell.
According to our Eyes, Judge Valdez admitted evidence from a polygraph without the proper hearing. It seemd that the polygraph "evidence" was used to attack the probable cause used to justify the traffic stop. We assume the court's logic was that the officer couldn't have almost been hit by the defendant if the defendant and his passengers never saw the police vehicle. Consequently, the officer had no justification for pulling the defendant over in the first place. Since the stop lacked the necessary probable cause, the fact that the defendant blew a .15 and smelled of alcohol is irrelevant.
What is more troubling to us is that our Eyes tell us that Judge Valdez never allowed the state to present its case; which would make it somewhat difficult to convince a judge of it's validity. Who knows Mr. Lawrence may still have been found not guilty, but it's incumbent upon the judge to follow procedure and to hear the complete case.