Thursday, December 4, 2008
Last updated 7:37 a.m. PT
In a moment of vindication for the former City Council candidate Wednesday, a Seattle jury found Venus Velazquez not guilty of a drunken-driving charge filed against her just before she lost at the polls.
Speaking after the verdict, Velazquez said she put her faith in the legal system when she was arrested in October 2007. That faith, she said, was well placed.
"I said from the beginning that I wasn't impaired," Velazquez said. "I'm pleased, obviously, that (the jurors) came to the right decision."
Velazquez was stopped for speeding the night of Oct. 17, 2007, while driving home from a Ballard campaign event. She was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and later charged with the misdemeanor.
During the two-day trial, jurors viewed a police video showing Velazquez undergoing a series of sobriety tests, then question officers when she was read her rights. Velazquez later refused to take a breath test that would have established whether her blood-alcohol level was above the .08 percent limit.
Velazquez's refusal garnered her a three-month license suspension and an ignition interlock, which prevents a car from starting or running if the driver has been drinking.
But the lack of blood-alcohol level evidence may have helped her chances with jurors, who declined to speak to reporters after delivering their verdict.
Velazquez attorney Bill Bowman said the test would have shown his client was not impaired.
Video of the arrest showed Velazquez alert, speaking to police in a clear, largely polite tone. Bowman played the video for jurors twice, claiming in his closing argument that it proved Velazquez wasn't intoxicated.
"I don't think these charges should ever have been brought," said Bowman, whose firm, Fox Bowman Duarte, regularly represents well-to-do DUI defendants, including former Seahawks quarterback Warren Moon.
"Had this been any other regular citizen, they wouldn't have been."
Politics added a subtle drama to the case. Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr recused himself from the case after it became known that he was supporting Velazquez's opponent, Councilman Bruce Harrell; Velazquez's attorneys continue to contend that Carr remained involved in the prosecution.
Arresting officer Eric Michl was also caught in the mix.
Testifying Wednesday, Michl said he was criticized by several active and retired officers for making the arrest. His union, the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, endorsed Velazquez.
"It was an uncomfortable feeling," said Michl, a 30-year department veteran assigned to the DUI emphasis squad. "I know I'd be scrutinized by other officers for my decision."
Had he not made the arrest, he said, his decision could have been portrayed in the media as a favor to Velazquez on behalf of the guild.
Bowman said he believes Michl did his best under difficult circumstances when offered "no good choice to make."
Taking the stand in her own defense Wednesday, Velazquez tearfully recounted the night of her arrest.
Until then, Velazquez appeared to be the strongest candidate in the field, winning the primary election 15 percentage points ahead of her rival, Harrell. In the end, Harrell garnered more than 60 percent of the vote.
Asked on the stand whether the DUI arrest denied her a seat on the council, Velazquez's answer was short and simple -- "absolutely."