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  • By: Kevin Leckerman, Esq.
  • Published: January 23, 2015
A man sitting in the driver's seat of a car - Leckerman Law, LLC

Last summer, Christopher Gish was taken into custody 3 times in the time period of 11 days and was charged with DUI in Dickson County.

His driving privileges could have been taken after his 2nd offense but he remained free until the third offense because of some reasons, in which the communication gap between the Borough cops and circumstances of Lackawanna County’s method of prosecuting the DUI drivers were included.

Last week, he was sentenced to 6 months of house arrest by Lackawanna County Judge, Michael Barrasse, for a 3rd time DUI offense. In the month of October after pleading guilty, he was ordered to pay an amount of $8,100 in fine.

38-year-old Gish slipped through the loophole in the State law due to the short period of time in which he got DUI’s otherwise he would have been facing strict penalties for the 3rd offense.

According to Chief William Bilinski, another reason of his short sentence was that he was taken into custody on 22nd of August for the 1st offense and for the 2nd time on 27th of August and due to the close dates, the Dickson City police officer didn’t make the link between the 2 offenses he committed. Police failed in recognition so he was allowed to drive and was set free on the roads which was a risk for other people present on the roadways.

According to David Hahn, who is the agency’s director, Dickson City Police Officer Michael Ranakoski did not check the background details from the 911 dispatch center during the 2nd time Gish was taken into custody, which maintains countywide and national criminal database on matters such as outstanding warrants and the times in which someone is taken into custody. By law, a cop must request that information for the dispatcher to release it, told Mr. Hahn.

Had he requested it, the cop may have learnt that Mr. Gish was getting arrested for his second DUI arrest in 5 days. In that case, steps could have been taken to stop his release, which is what happened after the 3rd time he was taken into custody.

Speaking through Chief Bilinski, the officer said he did not make the request due to the reason that he was focused on completing the arrest at the time. But even if he had, the happening of the first time arrest may not have been available to him.

The reason behind that is that law enforcement officials here rely on a blood test to find the BAC level when building a case against a suspected drunk driver. Chief Bilinski said that the results from a blood test can take almost 2 to 3 weeks to arrive from the lab. It is usual in the county to release suspected drunk drivers from custody until those results are available to show that the person was under the influence.

That time period delays the filing of charges and the launching of a criminal court case. DUI cases in which breath tests are used can initiate court proceedings and the potential penalties faster. Due to the reason that Mr. Gish had been taken into custody twice in a short period of time, his initial charges would likely not have even been logged yet, according to Chief Bilinski and Mr. Hahn.

Lackawanna County Deputy District Attorney, Robert Klein, who is the head of the office’s DUI unit, said that the lag time of using blood compared to breath tests is extensively outweighed by its greater accuracy value, as well as its ability to test for illegal drugs in the suspected individual which is an increasing issue in area drivers.

Mr. Klein said of blood testing, “It’s better. All around better”.

When he was taken into custody for the first 2 times, Mr. Gish had an extremely high BAC level which came out to be 0.332 percent the 1st time it was tested and 0.312 percent the 2nd time. Chief Bilinski, who took Mr. Gish into custody for the third time, estimated him at similar levels. These BAC levels are more than or near to four times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Attempts to approach Mr. Gish were not successful.

He will lose his driver’s license for 3 years, one for each verdict because he has been sentenced now, told Mr. Klein. He was able to get back his seized Ford F-150 pickup truck after his 1st DUI and drive it, as he had not yet been convicted.

When he was taken into custody for the 3rd time, he was behind the wheel of a Honda Civic with expired registration and no insurance, said Chief Bilinski.

Although they failed to recognize Mr. Gish’s immediate criminal history at the time of the 2nd arrest, Dickson City police officers did notice it a short time after and were ready for him the third time on 2nd of September. The department alerted the district attorney’s office in advance and Judge Barrasse set extraordinarily high cash bail of $100,000, essentially denying another fast release.

The chief said, “We knew we needed to get him off the street because he just was not complying. He would not listen.”

Usually, a 3rd DUI conviction within 10 years at the highest level of BAC level, which categorizes Mr. Gish, would require a judge give the defendant minimum 1 year in prison and would permit for a maximum of 5 years but as the arrests came in such close succession, Mr. Gish had no convictions on his record at any of the times he was arrested. Therefore, every time he was taken into custody, the arrest had to be logged as a 1st offense which carries a lighter compulsory sentence of just 72 hours in jail and permit for a maximum of 6 months. Penalties for first offense also carry a driver’s license suspension of 1 year rather than serving 18 months in jail for the 3rd conviction.

Other than the 6 months of house arrest and the high amount of fine, Judge Barrasse sentenced Mr. Gish to 18 months of alcohol-free court supervision, nine months of monitoring with an alcohol-detecting bracelet and alcohol counseling for his addiction. In his court appearance, Mr. Gish accepted to the issue. After he was taken into custody for the 3rd time, Mr. Gish told police officers that he couldn’t stop and didn’t want to be let out of prison, told Chief Bilinski.

The chief added, “He knew he had a problem. He was getting up in the morning and he was drinking just to feel good.”

News Source: TheTimes-Tribune

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