A week of firsts in superior court

Published 9:47 am Thursday, September 21, 2017

It was a week of firsts in Davie Superior Court Aug. 14.

It was the first time Superior Court Judge Lori Hamilton returned to the town where she has been a practicing attorney for years, this time to preside over court.

It was her first bench trial and the first time a bench trial has occurred in Davie Superior Court, said Assistant DA Rob Taylor.

It was also Assistant DA Steve Boone’s first bench trial in Superior Court.

A bench trial is a trial in which the judge, not a jury, is responsible for a verdict.

The defendant, Jonathan Neal Dinkins, 48, of Advance, was charged with DWI and reckless driving stemming from an incident May 19, 2014. His trial was on the third day of court.

According to testimony by Deputy Chad Hemmings, he was flagged down in the Food Lion parking lot off US 158 in Bermuda Run around 12:50 that day. Hemmings said his attention was drawn to a large, red Chevrolet truck driving through the parking lot.

The vehicle stopped at the stop sign behind Venezia’s restaurant, with Hemmings behind it. He said the driver put the car in reverse, backed up briefly, then put the truck into park, then reverse, then park, twice, before he pulled across US.158 onto Peachtree Lane. As he did so, Hemmings said, the truck was in the wrong lane and stayed that way to near the side road to turn into Bojangles. The truck then got into the correct lane and pulled up to the stop sign at NC 801.

“He sat for a bit, then put the truck into reverse, park, reverse, park and then took a left onto 801 in the wrong lane of travel, before he jerked it back into the right lane. At the stoplight to make a turn, he again put the truck into reverse, park, reverse, and park again. He appeared to be hiding something or looking for something,” Hemmings said.

The light turned green but the truck didn’t move, and Hemmings activated his blue light and followed the truck as it turned right onto US 158 and into the Walgreens parking lot. Once in the parking lot, Hemmings said, Dinkins kept trying to “hop out” of his truck, despite Hemmings repeatedly telling him to stay seated.

“He was talking very fast and shaking almost uncontrollably. I asked him for his driver’s license, and he handed me his debit card and kept going through his wallet, but his license was in his left hand the whole time,” Hemmings testified. Dinkins’ breath and body smelled of alcohol, and he told Hemmings he is an alcoholic and that’s why he was shaking so badly.

Dinkins failed a walk and turn test and had two positive readings on breath-alcohol tests. Hemmings called NC Highway Patrol Trooper Gary A. Mills, who advised him he was on the other end of the county, and they agreed for safety, it was best to handcuff Dinkins and transport him to the jail in town to meet with Mills.

Dinkins’ attorney, Ashley Cannon, spent several moments questioning Hemmings about Dinkins’ travel through the parking lot, confused as to where a stop sign was, because she was picturing him behind the business at the dumpsters. Hemmings was able to help her understand Dinkins drove on the small road that goes from the Food Lion parking lot to US 158. She made the point Dinkins would have had to go through reverse if he was moving his gear shift from park to drive.

Mills testified Dinkins wanted to call his mother to be a witness during his testing, but was “unable to operate the phone. He wasn’t waiting to hear the prompts to tell him how to make a collect call. He just kept pressing buttons.”

Someone at the jail called Dinkins’ mother, but she was unable to make it in time for the testing, which has to be done within 30 minutes. Mills said during that time, Dinkins was moving around the room erratically, speaking loudly and rapidly and with “exaggerated reflexes.”

Mills was unable to administer the HGN (Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus) test, in which the person being tested is told to track the movement of something, usually a pen, that is being passed before their eyes, without moving their head. Mills said Dinkins wouldn’t hold his head still and he told Mills he has cataracts in his left eye. Dinkins’ pupils were dilated almost to the size of his irises, Mills testified.

Due to his inability to follow simple instructions, the failure of a repeated walk and turn test, and his uncontrolled and “twitchy” movements, Mills said he believed Dinkins had used alcohol and another drug or drugs. He tested .05 on two Breathalyzer tests, but when Mills asked him if he believed he should have been operating a motor vehicle, Dinkins answered, ‘No. Hell no.’

He said Dinkins told him he was a “drunk” and had started drinking at age 6.

Cannon asked Mills if Dinkins told him before the walk and turn test he has issues that would prevent him from being able to do the test, and Mills said he didn’t remember Dinkins saying that. She asked Mills if he was aware that shaking and uncontrolled movements are indicative of alcohol withdraw (Dinkins had stated he’d had no alcohol since the day before he was stopped.) and Mills said he was, but he believed Dinkins had taken a stimulant drug because his pupils were dilated.

“Did you ask him to submit to a blood test?” Cannon asked. Mills said he did not.

Cannon made a motion to dismiss the cases, saying Mills had an opportunity to do a blood test and did not, and a search of Dinkins truck revealed nothing. Hamilton denied the motion.

Boone, in his argument against dismissal, said Dinkins’ bad driving was evidence of impairment.

“Would somebody do that because they were having alcohol withdraw? That bad driving is because of impairment,” he said.

During the lunch break, Hamilton took time to examine the evidence, and when the trial resumed, she stated she considered Dinkins’ actions from both the possibility of alcohol withdraw and the possibility he had taken an impairing substance.

She said the actions he took of putting the car through various gears was “very strange. I don’t think that behavior can be explained by alcohol withdraw symptoms…Shaking, wobbly, yes, that can be attributed to alcohol withdraw but not being able to follow instructions to stay in the vehicle…holding the driver’s license in one hand while continuing to look through the wallet for it, not alcohol withdraw. There are some physical disabilities noted but he couldn’t follow directions on the test, couldn’t listen to and follow prompts necessary to make a collect call. What we have is some very bizarre behavior. I do believe he was in the throes of alcohol withdraw but looking at the totality of the circumstances, I find him guilty.”

She found him not guilty on the reckless driving charge.

Dinkins was sentenced to 30 days, suspended for 12 months probation. He must perform 24 hours of community service, obtain a substance abuse assessment and treatment, surrender his license and not operate a vehicle until he is licensed to do so. He was ordered to pay a $100 DWI fee, court costs and a $200 fine.