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Published: Friday, 10/28/2005

Jail likely for gubernatorial candidate s wife


COLUMBUS The wife of Mayor Michael Coleman, a Democrat running for governor in 2006, would have a hard time avoiding jail on charges of drunken driving if a plea bargain attempt fails, legal experts said.

Frankie Coleman, 55, who was arrested Oct. 20 after hitting a parked truck, failed a field sobriety test and registered 0.271 percent on a blood-alcohol test more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent, police said.

State law requires a mandatory three-day jail sentence for motorists who have blood-alcohol levels of 0.17 percent or more.

Ms. Coleman s high reading makes it unlikely a prosecutor would agree to a plea deal that reduces the charges against her, said Mitch Allen, an attorney in Lebanon who handles drunken-driving cases.

Unless the evidence in this case is so [flawed], I would be absolutely shocked if the prosecutor reduced the charges, especially for such a high-profile person, Mr. Allen said.

Police charged Ms. Coleman with two counts of drunken driving, one based on the officers observations and another based on the blood-alcohol test. She was also charged with failure to control.

Ms. Coleman was scheduled to be arraigned yesterday in Franklin County Municipal Court, but a request by her attorneys to delay the arraignment for two weeks was granted.

If her attorneys can prove that there were problems with the blood-alcohol test, they would have bargaining leverage with prosecutors, said Columbus attorney Brad Koffel, whose firm represents hundreds of drunken- driving cases a year.

Machines that test for blood-alcohol content must be properly maintained, and officers giving the test must do so in a room with low levels of radio frequency interference, away from cell phones and police radios, Mr. Koffel said.

If Bexley police officers failed to do any of this, Ms. Coleman s attorneys could seek a deal with prosecutors that dismisses the test results in exchange for a guilty plea on reduced drunken- driving charges, Mr. Koffel said. Such a deal might involve a sentence of 72 hours in an alcohol education program, a six-month suspension of her driver s license, and a fine of around $350, Mr. Koffel said.

If she doesn t get that, she s looking at jail, Mr. Koffel said. There s really no in between.

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