Keena Ware admitted to deputies the night of March 28, 2010, that she had drunk two beers and was halfway through a third, which deputies said they later found in her sport utility vehicle.
She also confessed to bringing her three children, ages 4, 5 and 8, with her on the trip to the store, a deputy testified Tuesday.
But Tuesday’s bench trial – heard before a judge rather than a jury – featured only one witness subpoenaed by Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine and none on behalf of the defense.
Richmond County sheriff’s Deputy Albert Parrish’s testimony established that Ware appeared to be drunk but that he couldn’t prove it because she refused to submit to field sobriety tests or a breath test.
He didn’t see Ware behind the wheel, and the deputy who made the traffic stop wasn’t subpoenaed by the district attorney’s office.
Superior Court Judge Michael Annis asked Parrish several different ways how Ware’s condition would affect her driving, but said at the conclusion of the bench trial that the evidence just didn’t show her condition to be “unsafe.”
“You dodged the bullet today,” said Annis, adding that there was no question Ware was driving drunk.
Annis decided the prosecution had proved only that Ware was driving with an open container, and he gave her the maximum penalty of a $250 fine.
The charges stem from the night Ware was pulled over outside her Hephzibah home on suspicion of DUI. In a tearful statement to deputies, Ware said she knew she shouldn’t have been driving because of her previous DUI convictions.
Those convictions were the crux of why the misdemeanor charges were bumped up to the Superior Court level and tried before a judge. A letter from the Richmond County solicitor general’s office after her arrest last year says Ware had three convictions for DUI since July 1, 2008.
One of those convictions is based on a companion charge of endangering a child while driving under the influence, which, according to state law, is counted separately as a DUI, the letter states.
Ware’s attorney, David Brunk, contested that assertion from the outset, saying that his client had only two DUI convictions.
Three previous convictions makes her latest case a felony DUI charge, which is listed on the indictment. The indictment also accuses Ware of three counts of endangering a child while driving under the influence.
Paine said afterward that she didn’t subpoena the deputy who made the traffic stop because the confession, combined with the testimony by Parrish, should have been enough for a conviction.
Ware refused to comment Tuesday as she walked out of the courtroom.