The forced resignation of a deputy assigned to the DUI task force could affect the prosecution of hundreds of cases, according to those in the legal community.
Erik Norman faced mandatory resignation from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 19 after a prosecutor reported that Norman told her he had falsified readings from a hand-held alcohol-testing device.
Norman told the department’s internal affairs division that he had done it only “once or twice” but couldn’t recall exactly which cases were involved.
Norman’s credibility is gone now, no matter how many times he falsified readings, said Augusta attorney Robert “Bo” Hunter, who prosecuted drunken driving cases as the Richmond County State Court solicitor from 1988 to 1996.
“He’s created a shadow of a doubt by falsifying evidence,” Hunter said. The only question a defense attorney would need to ask is: “Did you falsify other results?”
Even worse, Hunter said, is that there probably were people charged with driving under the influence who shouldn’t have been.
Norman, hired as a jailer in July 2002, was transferred to the DUI task force in March 2009. An accurate count of his DUI convictions cannot be made through court records, but during his time on the task force, he arrested an estimated 250 to 400 people.
State Court Solicitor Charles Evans said his office has 62 pending DUI cases in which Norman was the arresting officer. Each will have to be judged on its merits to determine whether to continue prosecuting them as DUIs. If necessary, the office will bring in Norman as a trial witness, Evans said.
The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council is investigating to determine whether Norman can keep his certification, said Ryan Powell, its director of operations. Unless he is arrested on felony charges or his certification is suspended, Norman is free to work as an officer, Powell said.
Falsifying evidence is a felony – making false statements – but prosecuting Norman for it would be difficult, District Attorney Ashley Wright said. A prosecutor would have to prove in which case Norman falsified the results, and there is no way to uncover those cases without Norman’s admission. He claimed he didn’t know which cases were falsified.
Wright estimated her office has about a dozen pending cases in which Norman was the arresting officer.
Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he thought Norman was a good officer and cannot understand why he would alter a test that isn’t admissible in court.
Officers on the street can use the Alco-Sensor, a hand-held device that provides a fairly accurate reading, Powell said.
The real test that is admissible in court is the Intoxilyzer 5000, a medical test done at the station that is “extremely accurate,” Powell said. The people who run the tests have to be certified by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The Intoxilyzer machine is examined regularly to ensure its readings are accurate.
Though the results of Alco-Sensor aren’t admissible at trial, judges consider them when deciding whether to accept a plea deal, how much time someone will spend in jail, and whether extra conditions for probation are needed, Hunter said.
State Court Judge David Watkins said Alco-Sensor results are like polygraph results in that while not admissible during a trial, they are useful tools.
If a judge believes a person could have a problem with alcohol, in-patient or out-patient evaluation can be ordered – at the person’s expense. A judge can also order electronic alcohol monitoring that commands a $208 startup fee and costs $360 a month. A device that prohibits a person’s vehicle from operating if it detects alcohol costs $132 a month.
Those fees would be on top of the minimum $651 fine and surcharge for a first offense DUI, $528 probation fee, $280 for driving school and $210 fee for the state to reinstate a driver’s license.
Watkins said he doesn’t look forward to an avalanche of challenges from people arrested by Norman, but it would serve a greater good.