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W.Va. lawyer chooses jail, not service

March 09, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A local attorney who did not perform 12 hours of community service as he was ordered to do after pleading no contest to a driving under the influence charge has decided to serve the time in jail instead, court officials and his attorney said.

Terry L. Britt, 56, of Neavitt, Md., was charged with driving under the influence and obstructing an officer on Sept. 5, 2001. He was arrested after employees of the Apple Harvest Drive Sheetz store called police about an intoxicated man in a car in the parking lot.

He admitted to police later that night that he had driven his car to the store, police said.

On Feb. 24, 2003, Britt pleaded no contest to the DUI charge and was sentenced to perform 12 hours of community service. As part of the plea bargain, the charge of obstructing an officer was dismissed.

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As of Monday afternoon, Britt had not performed any community service hours, said Roy Davis, director of Berkeley County's community service program.

Davis filed paperwork Monday to convert the community service sentence to a jail term. Rather than wait for a hearing, Britt scheduled a time to serve the hours in Eastern Regional Jail.

He will serve 12 hours beginning at 7 p.m. on March 24, Magistrate Joan Bragg said Monday.

Britt's attorney, Craig Manford, said Britt tried to reach Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith last week to schedule a time to do the community service. Britt was going to speak to deputies about legal-related matters, Smith and Davis said.

"I got the impression from Terry that he had tried several times to get this worked out," Manford said.

Although Smith said it's possible a phone message got lost in his busy office, he said he never talked to Britt. "He never talked to my secretary," or to Chief Deputy Kenny Lemaster, Smith said.

Britt wants to serve the time in jail because he does not want it to appear that "he's getting away with anything," Manford said.

This is not the first time Davis filed paperwork to convert a community service sentence into jail time because the offender failed to do the necessary work, Davis said.

In the last eight years, around 1,000 people have been ordered to perform community service. Two percent or 3 percent of those people never do the work, and several have been sentenced to serve time as a result, Davis said.

A sentencing order filed after Britt's plea indicated the community service hours were to be completed within a time frame up to Davis' discretion.

Written in the Magistrate Court order is the warning that, per state code, those sentenced to community service remain under the jurisdiction of the court, which may withdraw the alternative sentence and require that the remainder of the sentence be served in the county jail.

The maximum penalty for a first-offense DUI conviction is six months in jail, but first-time offenders typically receive a sentence of 24 hours.

In 2003, community service workers picked up litter, helped with the annual Soap Box Derby and Senior Center used book sale, helped with special events like the Fourth of July fireworks, mowed public grassy areas, removed snow, painted bleachers and performed other tasks, Davis said.

Cpl. Ron Gardner of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department responded to the 2001 call at the Sheetz store.

Britt refused several orders to get out of his car and instead held a pen and paper and demanded to know Gardner's name, court records state.

Gardner helped Britt out of the car and noticed that Britt's breath smelled like alcohol, he had slurred speech and swayed and staggered while walking, records state. Britt refused to take an alcohol breath test, records say.

Britt has law offices in Martinsburg, in Hagerstown, Cumberland, Frederick, Westminster and Easton in Maryland, in Winchester, Va., and Morgantown/Fairmont, W.Va.

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