A prominent downtown Leesburg attorney may soon get to plead his case before the nation's highest court.
Joe Ritenour, of Ritenour, Paice Mougin-Boal & Wexton, has filed a petition to take a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Ritenour is representing Round Hill resident Joshua K. Shortt, who was found guilty of DUI in September 2009, following his arrest on the charges in Purcellville in October 2008. According to Ritenour, Shortt was a former Fauquier County deputy who had taken a job as a Loudoun County Fire Rescue dispatcher following a shoulder injury. Having difficulty adjusting to his new overnight work hours, Shortt was prescribed Ambien by his doctor in an attempt to cure his insomnia. However, the prescription drug caused Shortt to become delusional when he got up one afternoon and thought it was time for him to go to work. He hopped into his car, still in his pajamas, and proceeded to drive while still under the influence of Ambien. He would collide with another vehicle twice while driving on Rt. 7, and would be arrested on charges of driving under the influence of drugs.
After being found guilty of the charges in the fall of 2009, Ritenour was assigned to represent Shortt in December of that year to file an appeal to the state Supreme Court. In November 2010, the state high court affirmed the lower court's decision.
Ritenour said Shortt's case points to a shortcoming in state law, as in Virginia there is no inquiry into criminal intent in a Driving Under the Influence of Drugs charge.
"The Constitution of the United States requires [the need to prove] criminal intent, some knowledge you were doing something wrong. I'm trying to get the Supreme Court to impose on Virginia the same requirements they previously imposed in other jurisdictions," he said.
Ritenour noted that Virginia statutes do not require criminal intent to be proven for cases of DUI or even trespassing, however "Virginia courts have ruled on many occasions they're not going to find you guilty if, by mistake, you walked on to someone's property even though the statute doesn't specifically require intent."
"Most of us philosophically can agree if you're going to face a criminal prosecution involving jail time, you should do something wrong," he continued.
Ritenour said the issue will likely become a bigger one over the years, as cases of individuals experiencing adverse side effects to prescription drugs-like in the case of Shortt, sleep driving-are continually being documented.
Ritenour said both the Loudoun County Circuit Court and Virginia Supreme Court have done their jobs in so far as their hands are tied to simply rule on the law as written.
"They said if you're operating a vehicle and had drugs in your system, you're guilty - period," he said. "From my standpoint we felt that, consistent with the Constitutional presumption of innocence, the Commonwealth of Virginia had the obligation to prove the element of criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt."
Ritenour said he expects to hear whether his case will be accepted by the Supreme Court within the next month or so.