Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Something Mr. Priapus might enjoy

Judge finds beer claim hard to swallow; prosecutor seeks new round

By Holly Herman
Reading Eagle

The case went flat for prosecutors when Berks County Judge Jeffrey K. Sprecher dismissed charges against a 44-year old Kutztown man accused of buying beer for his 17-year-old neighbor.
The teen, Shawn Putnam of Kutztown, testified at a pretrial hearing that Gregg R. Hartman, his neighbor, bought him a case of Miller Genuine Draft at Duffer's Distributors in Kutztown on Jan. 7 and that he drank five beers from the case.

But Sprecher ruled, in an order made available Tuesday, that prosecutors failed to prove Miller Genuine Draft is indeed beer.

Sprecher sided with the defense and ruled Putnam's testimony was not enough to prove Hartman of the 300 block of East Walnut Street bought beer.

“They did not have any beer cans or tests to prove it was beer,” argued defense attorney David R. Eshelman.

Eshelman said prosecutors did not present a state Liquor Control Board list of all beers.

“There is no testimony on the record that the beer contained any alcohol,” he said. “In most cases, the prosecutors will give a list from the state with names of beer to prove that it is beer. In this case, they did not do that.”

On Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Joseph R. Speece filed a request for Sprecher to reconsider his decision and included with that the state's list of beers.

“We thought that the boy's testimony proved that he drank beer,” Speece said.

According to testimony at the pretrial hearing:

Hartman picked up Putnam to drive him to a restaurant. Instead, Putnam said, Hartman agreed to drive him to the distributor and buy beer for Putnam.

Putnam drank five beers in the car while Hartman drove around.

Hartman's car skidded on the right side of Long Lane in Greenwich Township and went off the road at 11:20 p.m.

State police responded, and Hartman was charged with furnishing liquor to minors.

Officials said Putnam was cited for underage drinking and pleaded guilty. Further details were unavailable.

Eshelman said the law requires prosecutors to prove the beer contained at least 5 percent alcohol.

“No testimony or evidence on records proved that Miller Genuine Draft contained 5 percent alcohol,” Eshelman said. “I was not surprised with the outcome. It was the right outcome.”

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