Updated: 12:30 p.m.
Former Rep. Vito Fossella pleaded guilty Monday in Alexandria Circuit Court to driving while intoxicated after fighting the charge for almost a year.
The New York Republican’s trial was set to begin Monday morning, but Fossella entered a plea before the proceedings. The decision was a surprise; Fossella’s attorneys have been preparing for months to appeal his December conviction.
But instead of going forward with two days of scheduled witnesses and arguments, Fossella agreed to serve five days in Alexandria city jail. The judge gave him credit for the one night he spent in jail when he was originally arrested on May 1, 2008.
Police had stopped Fossella that night for running a red light in Alexandria, Va. A breath alcohol test a few hours later showed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.17, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08. A reading of more than 0.15 carries a mandatory five days in jail.
News of the arrest led to revelations that Fossella — a family-values conservative — was having an extramarital affair and had had a daughter with his mistress. Under pressure to resign, he did not seek re-election in the 111th Congress.
But while his Congressional career was over, Fossella continued to fight the charges, arguing that he had only had a couple of glasses of wine before heading to Alexandria to see his sick daughter. In the December trial, his attorneys called on a long list of witnesses in an attempt to prove that the breath alcohol machine used on Fossella was faulty.
But the arresting officers painted a picture of a “swaying— Fossella, who at one point threatened to go to the bathroom on the floor if he wasn’t allowed to visit a restroom for the second time. After a seven-hour trial, a district judge ruled that he was guilty.
The appeals trial in Alexandria Circuit Court promised to follow similar lines, with Fossella’s attorneys making repeated requests to get the source code for the particular breath alcohol tester used to determine Fossella’s blood alcohol level.
Last week, a motion to delay the trial to wait for that source code was denied, and “in light of that,— Fossella decided to plead guilty, attorney Barry Pollack said.
“Mr. Fossella has acknowledged from Day One that he made a mistake driving out there having had something to drink,— he said. But he said Fossella had hoped to prove that the 0.17 reading was far higher than Fossella’s actual blood alcohol level.
“We have attempted through the courts to get a copy of the source code,— Pollack said. “The court of Virginia, as well as the manufacturer of the machine, has fought us on that.—
The terms of Fossella’s guilty plea essentially mimics that of his December conviction: jail time, plus a year under a restricted license. He is scheduled to serve his time over two weekends, starting with the upcoming weekend.