Woman Represents Self in Trial
Dana Scales insisted on a jury trial last week despite every effort of the judge to warn her of the difficulty anybody, but especially a nonlawyer, would face.
Scales had been involved in an altercation with a police officer directing traffic in front of Pinehurst Elementary School where she had dropped off her daughter.
According to testimony by two Pinehurst officers, Todd Maness and Rebecca McCain, Scales became belligerent and loudly abusive. She was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting a public officer.
She was appealing convictions on both charges in District Court.
Superior Court Judge John O. Craig III told her that, even if she were to plead guilty, she would probably receive only a suspended sentence on the two misdemeanors.
He told her she could enter an "Alford plea" as being in her best interest to plead guilty but without having to admit actual guilt.
Scales, who often expressed mistrust in the judicial system, would not budge. She said she wanted a jury trial and that she would defend herself. Even at the end of the state's case, when defense attorneys usually move to dismiss, Scales would not - not even with prompts from Craig - enter a motion for dismissal.
"No," she said. "Let the jury decide."
Scales made no opening statement. Assistant District Attorney David Bjorlin said testimony would show that on May 9, 2007, Scales started yelling and cursing at the officer after he stopped her car while directing traffic.
On the stand, Maness and McCain described Scales yelling, cursing and using foul language in so loud a voice that children and parents stopped to stare.
"What I most remember are the shocked faces of kids and parents," Maness said. "She was screaming and cursing. She said she hoped I had children and that they all died."
Scales, who works as a certified nursing assistant with Home Choice, testified in her own defense, describing the language she used in the back of the patrol car as "free speech" and denying she had misbehaved at all before being arrested.
On cross-examination, Scales asked Maness (as well as each of the other officers who testified) if he knew what perjury was.
After Bjorlin rested the state's case, and Scales would not enter a motion to dismiss, she called herself as a witness.
"Yeah, I want to testify," she said.
She described leaving her daughter at the school and pulling to a stop sign at Dundee Road, where Maness was directing the usual early morning congested school traffic.
"He told me to pull over," she said. "I asked, 'What did I do?' As soon as I said that, he got on the phone laughing, telling somebody I was crazy."
In her closing argument, Craig stopped Scales from reading documents she had downloaded from Human Rights Watch.
She said she understood, but when she began to read rather than using the papers as notes, Craig stopped her.
"I am not guilty," she told jurors. "Once a person is in that back seat (of the patrol car), there is a thing called free speech. I come before you, just me and God, because no lawyers believed I was not guilty. All these witnesses claimed I was acting up roughly in front of the magistrate, but he gave me a written promise to appear. I had to fight this, because I was telling the truth. I can't believe in soft lies.
"I would not put my hand on the Bible and tell a lie. My great-grandmother worked for Judge McConnell (whose painted portrait is on the wall in the courtroom). These people don't understand that. They think it's funny."
Bjorlin told the jury that Scales basically lost it, and that nothing about the case was funny.
"It is sad to say," Bjorlin said. "You should find her guilty on both counts."
The jury did find her guilty.
"Miss Scales, I am more than willing to give you an opportunity to express yourself," the judge said. "I do not want to give you an active sentence. I know you have children. Are you willing to try your best?"
"I am going to appeal," Scales said.
In response, Craig made certain she understood how difficult appeals are without the assistance of a lawyer, and that she knew the appeals court would not be retrying the case itself.
Craig, following guidelines based on her prior record level from traffic offenses, ordered Scales to serve two consecutive 60-day sentences, suspended on 24 months regular supervised probation, attend and successfully complete a class in anger management and submit to a mental health evaluation if required by her probation officer.
Craig waited to be sure she had worked out compliance with the probation office before adjourning court for the day.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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