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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, Decemer 16, 2010

In Guilderland
Police make second Leandra’s Law arrest after first offender pleads to misdemeanor

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland Police Department has made its second arrest under Leandra’s Law, which took effect in December 2009.

The law makes it a felony to drive drunk in New York with a child in the car, following the death of 11-year-old Leandra Rosado in an accident on the Henry Hudson Parkway.

First-time offenders charged with felony driving while intoxicated can sometimes plead down to a charge of driving while ability impaired, a violation, according to Heather Orth, a spokesperson for the Albany County District Attorney’s office, but Leandra’s Law allows defendants to plead down only to a misdemeanor DWI charge.

The first person arrested under Leandra’s Law, Dr. Eileen Joyce, of Voorheesville, last Friday pleaded her charge down to a misdemeanor. “A felony conviction, for a doctor, would have been like a death sentence,” Joyce’s lawyer, E. Stewart Jones, said yesterday.

But the second person arrested under the law in Guilderland, Leon H. Skervin, might not be able to do the same, due to prior convictions.

On Saturday, Dec. 11, Skervin was arrested and charged under Leandra’s Law with aggravated driving while intoxicated; his 11-month-old infant was in the car at the time.

Skervin, a 34-year-old Albany resident, was observed parked in the fire lane in front of Uno’s Pizzeria with his car running, and then pulling out of the lane without using a turn signal, and failing to keep right, according to Lieutenant Daniel McNally of the Guilderland Police.

When a patrol car activated its lights, Skervin, who was driving a 2003 Jeep, did not immediately pull over, McNally said. When he did stop, on the Crossgates Ring Road, officers found two 40-ounce containers of malt liquor in the car, one of which was open, said McNally.

In addition to being charged under Leandra’s Law, Skervin was arrested for felony driving while intoxicated with prior convictions — he had two DWI arrests in the past 10 years — and felony aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, failure to operate a vehicle equipped with an interlock device, numerous traffic violations, and operating a motor vehicle with an open container, according to a press release from the police department.

An interlock device, explained McNally, is a breathalyzer installed in vehicles; once installed, the driver must exhale into the device, and if the blood alcohol concentration is too high, the engine will not start. Once the engine has started, the device requires intermittent, random breath samples.

Skervin was supposed to be driving a car with an interlock device as a condition of his previous DWI arrests, said McNally; he said Skervin must have been driving someone else’s car, but that the device requirement appeared in Skervin’s records as a condition of driving privileges.

After the arrest, Skervin’s child was turned over to its mother, who was not in the car at the time. A referral was made to the Albany County Department of Social Services, and the incident is still under investigation.

Skervin was arraigned in Guilderland Town Court before Judge Denise Randall, and was sent to the Albany County jail with no bail.

Joyce’s plea

Joyce was also arraigned before Randall. She was arrested on Dec. 19, just one day after Leandra’s Law was went into effect, during an Albany County DWI blanket patrol. The law makes driving with a blood-alcohol content higher than the legal limit of .08 percent when there is a person 15 years old or younger in the vehicle a felony.

Joyce, a 52-year-old gynecologist/obstetrician, was returning from Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady when she was stopped by Guilderland Police for making an erratic movement near the intersection of routes 20 and 146, before continuing on Route 20, making several infractions.

She registered a blood alcohol content of. 14 percent, according to statements made at a press conference in Guilderland after her arrest. She had three passengers in her car, including a 7-year-old.

If Joyce had been charged with a felony, she could have faced a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail term of up to four years. But the Guilderland officer who made the arrest did not come to court to testify in the case.

Sergeant Glenn Stevens has retired and moved to Alaska within the last year, and he wrote a letter in August to Mary Tanner-Richter, assistant to the district attorney, informing her that he had no intentions of returning to New York to testify. He wrote the letter shortly after publicly acknowledging that Joyce had delivered his child in 1998.

Stevens’s letter cited several reasons for not testifying, including that he is now a civilian, is not compensated for his time in court, and lives 5,000 miles away from Albany.

“Lastly, you are well aware of my personal feelings relative to your office refusing to allow Dr. Joyce to plea bargain to a misdemeanor DWI…Dr. Joyce has never been in trouble, has never been accused of an alcohol-related offense, and nobody got hurt,” Stevens wrote in the letter, which The Enterprise obtained from the Albany County District Attorney’s office. He added that, in his experience, even repeat offenders had been given the opportunity to plea out of the felony class.

Jones told The Enterprise that Stevens’s letter helped the case, but that there were a number of other issues the defense could have used to fight a felony conviction. However, Jones said, the fact that Joyce delivered Stevens’s child had no bearing on his decision not to testify.

“He certainly knew who she was, but so did hundreds of other people who stood up for her,” said Jones.

The defense submitted over 200 character references, and had medical, pharmacology, and breathalyzer experts ready to testify that Joyce’s blood alcohol content reading had been inaccurate, Jones said.

“Stevens’s letter helped because, here’s a police officer, stating on the record that he doesn’t agree with the district attorney’s office policy,” said Jones. He said Joyce had been exhausted, emotionally distressed, and vulnerable, at the time of the arrest.

“She had just lost her medical partner and mentor unexpectedly to a surgical complication; she hadn’t eaten for days, and was working on a eulogy for her partner that she was supposed to deliver the next day,” Jones said.

In the end, Joyce pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DWI last Friday. Her driver’s license has been suspended; she will be required to attend a drinking driver program; and she must complete 150 hours of community service. Joyce did not return calls for comment.

“I think considering what she pled to, the sentence was very fair,” concluded Jones. “She does community service anyway, both in this country and out of it, so 150 hours is nothing.”

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