April 19, 2012
Byfuglien goes to court in JulyLawyer confident Jet will be acquitted of impaired boating charges
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - It’s been a bit of a puzzler from the start. The Mystery at Lake Minnetonka, if you will.
The story behind Dustin Byfuglien’s arrest on charges of impaired boating in Minnesota last summer has always produced more questions than answers.
After a nearly one-year wait, and against the hopes of the Winnipeg Jets defenceman and his lawyer, the case will go to trial by jury, July 23.
“He’d like to have this resolved — it’s been dragging on for a long time,” attorney Mitch Robinson told the Sun from Minneapolis, Thursday, after his last-ditch attempt to strike a plea bargain failed. “It’s been a cloud hanging over his head. But the end is near.”
Robinson wanted the prosecutor to agree to a guilty plea on a lesser charge of operating a boat without navigational lights.
He lost that argument, but he doesn’t plan on losing the next one.
“I’m confident we’re going to win this case,” he said, warning the result could affect Byfuglien’s hockey career and his ability to move freely across the border.
“I’ve consulted with immigration attorneys in Canada, and I don’t think it’s absolutely clear,” Robinson said. “It might hurt him. It might not.”
The maximum penalty on the charges: a year in jail and $3,000 fine. A more typical penalty: two years probation and $900 fine.
Robinson’s strategy with the jurors will be simple.
“There is absolutely no indication Dustin Byfuglien was under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance,” he said. “He’s driving his boat perfectly safely. He was polite and cooperative with law enforcement. He took a preliminary breath test and did .03, well below the legal limit. Yet he was arrested anyway.”
The question is why?
“I’m interested in the police officers answering that question on the witness stand,” Robinson said.
Among the people Robinson plans to have testify are the three people with Byfuglien on the boat: his then-pregnant fiancée, his accountant and the accountant’s fiancée.
Only Byfuglien and the police officers know what transpired after he was taken into custody, eventually resulting in charges of boating while impaired and refusing to take a chemical test.
Was he belligerent?
“He knew he didn’t have much to drink,” Robinson said. “He’s feeling that he’s being treated unfairly. At a certain point, he said, ‘I don’t trust these cops. I want to have my attorney here.’ ”
There’s been speculation the police were looking for their 15 minutes of fame by throwing the book at a rich and famous professional athlete.
Robinson says while the arresting officers knew who Byfuglien was, he has no reason to believe they were out to get him.
Prosecutor Steve Tallen has had several opportunities to be heard, but has yet to return a phone call or message requesting comment.
The only evidence heard from that side we’ve gleaned from police reports submitted in court.
A drug recognition expert noted Byfuglien showed signs of drug impairment, including watery eyes, a fast pulse, high body temperature and a brown stain on his tongue.
A sheriff’s deputy told the court Byfuglien’s “speech was slurred, he was unsteady on his feet, his eyes were bloodshot and watery and he smelled of a consumed alcoholic beverage.”
Then there’s Byfuglien himself.
A reluctant interview at the best of times, No. 33 has remained silent about the incident. And the local media gave him plenty of space over the course of the season.
There’s a chance Byfuglien’s silence will continue right through the trial.
“I’m not sure we need to put Dustin on the witness stand,” Robinson said. “But I also know he has nothing to hide.”
The week of July 23, we should find that out for certain.