Wednesday, July 12, 2006
PILOTS APPEAL CRASHES AND BURNS
SNOOPY vs. THE RED BARON
NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES
TO FILE REHEARING MOTION
AND, IF FILED, DISPOSED OF.
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL
JULY TERM, 2006
CHRISTOPHER S. HUGHES
vs. CASE NO. 3D05-1767
THE STATE OF FLORIDA,
LOWER TRIBUNAL NO. 02-19207
Opinion filed July 12, 2006.
An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, David H. Young, Judge.
Jeffrey L. Freeman and James K. Rubin, for appellant.
Charles J. Crist, Jr., Attorney General, and Paulette R. Taylor, Assistant Attorney General, for appellees.
Before SUAREZ and ROTHENBERG, JJ., and SCHWARTZ, Senior Judge.
Rumpole takes this moment to note that a careful reading of the caption of the appeal would lead experienced appellate lawyers to suspect that things are not heading exactly in the way pilot/defendant Hughes would have wanted.
Judge Rothenberg wrote the opinion for the court:
(readers will remember that trial counsel for the pilots decided that the best defense would be that since the aircraft was being towed to the taxiway in preparation for takeoff, the pilots were not in control of the aircraft for the purposes of the DUI prosecution. )
Here is the way the “Red Baron” dealt with “Snoopy’s” defense at trial
"But more importantly, whether the defendants could move the aircraft under its own power during the time it was being towed by the tug is irrelevant and, with all due respect to the defense, nothing more than a red herring. The undisputed evidence at trial was that the defendants “operated” the aircraft well before it was attached to the tug and towed away from the gate in preparation for its takeoff."
We don’t always agree (ok, we never agree) with the way the Honorable Judge Rothenberg interprets criminal law. But even we are forced to admit that the Judge is correct. The defense at trial was a red herring and nothing more.
When you get past all the legal issues and so forth, you still have to deal with the common sense of jurors at trial. What would any person with a brain think was going to happen after the aircraft was towed to the taxiway? That Amelia Earhart would swoop down and sit in the pilot’s seat and take over?
The technical legal distinction that these two soused pilots were not in control of the aircraft at the particular moment the plane was stopped was ridiculous, and almost as reckless as the act of the pilots themselves.
Now we realize that sometimes the defense is reduced to arguing “venue” at trial because there is nothing else to contest. And certainly there will always be a certain amount of second guessing the losing side when a publicity case goes to trial.
But we can’t help feeling that the second mistake these two pilots made (the first being staggering out of Mr. Moes and hailing a cab to the airport) was in their choice of trial counsel. There are several highly trained and very successful DUI defense attorneys in this county, and none of them were retained for this case.
In the final analysis, these pilots almost killed over a hundred people. Men, women, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and children all boarded that aircraft and placed their lives in the hands of two men who cared so little for the responsibility entrusted to them, that they spent the night before the flight drinking in Coconut Grove.
The first thing they teach you in flight school is “24 hours bottle to throttle”.
The actions of these pilots was inexcusable. In the scheme of things they probably got the defense they deserved and the sentence they deserved.
See You In Court.