Belfast man convicted of bad driving

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Belfast man was found guilty as charged at the conclusion of his one-day trial Friday when he was convicted of violating three traffic laws.

A jury of nine men and three women found John E. Lynch, 47, guilty of: driving after having been declared a habitual motor vehicle offender; driving under the influence; and of violating the implied consent law.

"The state feels this is a very strong case," Assistant District Attorney Chris Collins said in his opening argument.

The first witness was Lewisburg Police Department Sgt. Anthony McLean, who described how he stopped Lynch after he saw him run a stop sign on Belfast Avenue about 1 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2007.

"I'm going back to jail," Lynch said right away, according to McLean's testimony. "I'm habitual."

Lynch refused field sobriety tests, McLean testified, quoting Lynch as saying, "I don't need to take it. I'm going to jail."

Lynch also declined to take a breathalyzer or blood alcohol test, resulting in the violation of implied consent charge.

McLean detected a "strong odor" of alcohol around Lynch, who had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech, the police sergeant said.

Lynch was driving because he was looking for his wife after they'd had an argument, McLean testified.

"'I know I shouldn't have been driving,'" McLean said, quoting Lynch.

Circuit Court Clerk Elinor Foster testified that office records show that Lynch was declared an habitual motor vehicle offender in 1996, and it is still in effect.

After the prosecution rested its case, the jury was sent out of the courtroom and Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler made sure Lynch knew he was free to decide whether or not to testify. After consulting with his attorney, Bill Harold of the Public Defender's Office, Lynch took the stand.

"I went to go find my wife because it was freezing," Lynch said, to explain why he was driving.

His wife got out of the car and walked away.

Lynch did not deny the couple had been drinking at a bar, though he said it was the Finish Line, where he had credit, and not Leonard's, as McLean testified. Lynch also admitted that he ran the stop sign, and that he knew he was not allowed to drive because he had been declared an HMVO.

The jury took just over an hour to bring back a guilty verdict on all three counts.

The prosecution then moved into the second phase of the trial: determining if Lynch had prior convictions for driving under the influence. The penalties for DUI vary with how many the driver has, with the fourth and subsequent DUI a Class E felony.

Collins read the entire indictment to the jury, which detailed 10 prior DUI convictions, starting in 1993. Suzanne Shelton of the Tennessee Department of Safety testified that the three-page document she brought with her was Lynch's certified driving record, noting at least five DUIs.

The jury took only 10 minutes to return the verdict that Lynch was guilty of more than four DUIs. Lynch remains jailed on $500,000 bond. His sentencing hearing will be on Nov. 3.