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Judge caught driving under the influence fails to show in court

COMMENT PRINT ARTICLE
PHOTO: Ants Liigus / Pärnu Postimees

Behavior of Pärnu county courthouse justice Rein Pokk, who was caught behind the wheel in a state of intoxication, serves as an example on how to handle such situations: do not blow into the breathalyzer but demand a blood test instead as time is ticking in your favor. Next, contest the test procedure and don't show up in court.

The late ferry from Virtsu to Kuivastu is nearing its destination after a half-hour journey on August 3. Two men take the elevator to the car deck: Poll and a truck driver who has asked to remain anonymous.

„We took the same elevator, and he had a smell; however, he got behind the wheel when it was time to drive off the ferry,“ the witness said in Tartu county court yesterday. Truck drivers maintain radio contact, and one the witness' colleagues had reported seeing the same vehicle perform a peculiar maneuver near Audru in Pärnu County.

„I let the police know there is a man smelling of alcohol on the road,“ the witness added. The police's representative asks the truck driver whether he is sure the smell was alcohol. „I'm positive it was alcohol,“ he answers.

Police officers pull Rein Pokk's car over near Kuressaare and ask him to blow into the indicator breathalyzer. It is a drive of 40-50 minutes from where Pokk disembarked the ferry. The initial breathalyzer test shows whether a person is in a state of intoxication, not exact alcohol content. „When the police pulled the vehicle over, I pulled up myself,“ the witness recalls. „The police officer told me to leave.“

Next, the police ask Pokk to blow into the evidence breathalyzer. The judge refuses and says he wants to submit a blood sample. Time is ticking in Pokk's favor as it is nighttime when he submits his sample in the Kuressaare Hospital. The sample is taken by a young nurse for whom it is the first time to perform the procedure.

Three times in a row

She calls a colleague for help. The sample is stored in a test-tube, which is placed in a plastic bag and sealed with a special sticker only to be placed in a bigger bag and sealed with another sticker. The sample is sent to the Estonian Forensic Science Institute in Tallinn.

The institute establishes that the driver's blood ethanol content was 0.98 milligrams per gram, with a margin of error of 0.05 milligrams, which leaves 0.93 mg/g as the final result.

The Kuressaare police station formalizes the misdemeanor decision on October 28. However, this is only the beginning as Pokk decides to contest the decision.

Judges are frequently plagued by people who fail to show up in court. The first hearing in Pokk's case was scheduled for January 31 of this year. Once he received the subpoena, Pokk scheduled a sitting for himself at the Pärnu courthouse for the same day and failed to show for his own sitting. He did not notify the court of the fact.

The next sitting was scheduled for February 16. Pokk notified the Tartu court that he cannot appear because of duties that cannot be postponed. Because Pokk did not have any urgent duties that day, the court blocked his complaint with an injunction.

The Pärnu judge contested the injunction and once again failed to show up at the Tartu courthouse yesterday. Judge Ene Muts said that she knows for a fact Pokk noted his April 24 sitting down in his calendar. Yet he does not show.

There are initial technical difficulties with the video conference with two witnesses from Kuressaare – a power outage on their side. Muts calls a recess, leaves for 10 minutes, and returns. It has turned out in the meantime that Pokk posted in the courts' information system that he cannot make the sitting for health reasons at 10:58 a.m., just two minutes before the scheduled sitting. He submits a referral from his family physician from August 23 last year as proof.

Invalid test

There is a witness form Tallinn in court who is responding to a subpoena for the second time. The subpoena states that people who fail to appear for sittings without good reason will be punished pursuant to the law.

Muts has to make a decision. To dismiss Pokk's application or postpone the matter. She decides to give Pokk more time to prove his illness.

What is Pokk's complaint even based on? A blood sample is taken, the test-tube is corked and a sticker laid on top so it covers both the tube and the cork.

Opening the cork breaks the sticker – those are the procedural regulations. In this case the sticker doesn't even reach the cork.

It is therefore possible to speculate that someone has opened the test-tube and replaced the sample, even though something like that would be virtually impossible. The sample was also inside a plastic safety envelope. Pokk gave his signature to confirm the test-tube contains his blood.

The witness from the forensics institute shows photographs that prove the sticker didn't even reach the cork. The nurse from Kuressaare hospital is equally adamant that the sticker was originally placed over the cork as required by law. Because the two stories are diametrically different, the question of who did what to the sample is raised. Did the the truck driver just imagine the entire situation, or is Pokk just a very experienced lawyer?

The institute's witness is asked whether alcohol could be added to the test-tube later and says it would require special equipment and know-how.

„Because the bags in which the test-tube is sealed are also closed, I see no such possibility,“ they say. The witness adds that a DNA analysis could determine whose the sample is. Questions emailed to Pokk remained unanswered yesterday, nor was he available to the court's press representative.

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