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Watertown Councilwoman Burns pleads guilty to DWAI

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Watertown City Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns admitted Monday in City Court that she consumed alcohol before crashing her vehicle into a railing at Ives Hill Country Club in December and then drove away from the scene without notifying police.

Mrs. Burns, 52, of 255 Mullin St., pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired by alcohol and leaving the scene of a property-damage accident. The pleas canceled a trial that was scheduled to begin Monday.

Mrs. Burns subsequently was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. Fulton City Judge Spencer J. Ludington, who presided over the case after the city’s two judges recused themselves, also fined her a total of $750 and ordered her to complete a defensive driver course through the state Department of Motor Vehicles and to attend a victim impact panel. Her driver’s license was suspended for 90 days.

Mrs. Burns, who declined comment on the matter outside the courtroom, was charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated Dec. 8 after leaving a retirement party for City Judge James C. Harberson at the country club on Flower Avenue West. Police went to her home to investigate the accident and claimed that she displayed signs of drinking. Her blood alcohol content was alleged to be 0.20 percent. Under state law, a BAC of 0.08 percent is the threshold for intoxication. Aggravated DWI is charged when the BAC is 0.18 percent or more.

In February, she filed an omnibus motion asking that all evidence obtained at her residence be suppressed, claiming it stemmed from a warrantless entry into her home by officers, as she never gave them explicit permission to enter. She asked that the charges be dismissed, contending her arrest was made without probable cause. At a hearing on the matter in April, Mrs. Burns testified that she had consumed wine after arriving home.

While Judge Ludington ruled in September that the evidence gained at Mrs. Burns’s home could be used against her at trial, Watertown attorney Matthew A. Goettel, who acted as special prosecutor in the case, said Monday that the time gap of about one hour between the accident and the arrival of the police at Mrs. Burns’s residence could have made it difficult to prove at trial how much alcohol Mrs. Burns had consumed before the accident relative to the amount she later consumed at home.

“I believe this could have raised some significant questions of fact in this case,” Mr. Goettel said. “We didn’t have facts to contradict the defendant’s claim that she had been drinking at home.”

Mrs. Burns’s attorney, Mark C. Curley, Syracuse, said he believed that the disposition was “fair,” as taking the case to trial could have posed a risk for both prosecutors and Mrs. Burns.

“She’s relieved, to a certain extent. Court can be a grueling process,” Mr. Curley said.

Mr. Curley told Judge Ludington before sentencing that Mrs. Burns has undergone several alcohol evaluations and has completed a treatment program that would be consistent with any required for a person facing an alcohol-related offense for the first time.

Mr. Curley told Judge Ludington that Mrs. Burns volunteers for her church, Hospice of Jefferson County and the Jefferson County Historical Society. In ordering community service, the judge said Mrs. Burns must perform services for an organization with which she is not already affiliated. He granted her a 20-day stay on her driver’s license revocation to allow her time to apply for a conditional license. Ives Hill did not seek restitution for any damage to the rail.

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