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High-profile drunk driving defendants face tough time in court

Does being a public figure make fighting the charge of operating a vehicle while under the influence (OVI) of alcohol or drugs harder?

Quite probably. In Butler county alone, there have been three high-profile OVI cases recently. One involved Middletown's Fire Chief, one involved Ohio Representative Wes Retherford, and the last involved a West Chester police officer. All three are public figures who are expected to set an example for others.

The failure to be a paragon of virtue and obedience to the law may not be why public figures like those three men face a rougher time in court, however. Instead, the issue is probably related to the amount of public attention given to the cases and fears by the prosecution that the public will see any leniency as a "favorable deal" offered to the defendants only because of their status.

Is that fair to the defendants in these kinds of cases?

In many cases, a driver with a clean record may be able to plead a first-time offense down to what's sometimes called a "wet reckless," or reckless driving charge -- which is what happened with the West Chester officer. He was eventually ordered to a 3-day alcohol evaluation class, had his license suspended with work privileges for 180 days and fined $250 plus court costs. The city also suspended him for five days without pay.

The other two high-profile defendants still haven't settled their cases. They may be taking their cue from experts who suggest that the best thing to do when faced with a situation like theirs is mix honesty with patience. One public relations expert says that high-profile defendants should keep in mind that saying "no comment" is usually a mistake with the public. Instead, it's better to approach the situation with as much honesty as possible without jeopardizing the chance of a fair trial down the road.

Additionally, experts recommend remembering that the news cycles rapidly -- a story that's hot today can be relegated to the back pages tomorrow. That may make a prosecutor more open to a deal once the public scrutiny has died down, so delaying a plea or a trial for a while may work in a public figure's favor.

If you're a prominent member of your community, it's important to take any OVI charge very seriously. Talk to a defense attorney as soon as possible.

Source: www.journal-news.com, "High-profile people charged with OVI face public perception battle," Rick McCrabb and Michael D. Pitman, March 19, 2017

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