Rare Bench Trial Conviction for Drunk Driver

Modified: June 10, 2015 10:27am

4/22/2015

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita, III announces that 26 year-old Matthew Piazza of 64 LeHavre Drive in the Town of Cheektowaga was convicted as charged of Feloniously Driving While Intoxicated and for violating New York State’s “Move Over Law” after a Non-Jury Trial before Acting State Supreme Court Justice M.William Boller. 

At 3:30am on June 21, 2014, New York State Troopers William Gourlay and Nick Keil were assisting a disabled vehicle on the right shoulder of the westbound section of the NYS Thruway in the Town of Cheektowaga.  Even though the patrol car’s overhead emergency lights were activated, the intoxicated Piazza drove his 2010 Jeep Wrangler in the right lane and sped past the troopers at an estimated 65 mph, failing to move over, despite the fact that the center and left lanes were free of traffic.  The troopers gave chase and eventually pulled over Piazza’s vehicle. It became immediately apparent that Piazza had been drinking and the defendant admitted to the same. Piazza failed several field sobriety tests, including one where he was requested to recite the alphabet; he could not get past the letter “D.”  Piazza refused to take a test to measure his blood alcohol content and was arrested for felony level DWI because of a prior 2009 conviction for misdemeanor level DWI.

Under the federal system and in most other states, both the prosecution and the defendant must agree to waive a jury trial in favor of a non-jury or bench trial. In New York, however, only the defendant need waive a jury. In other words, in New York, the defendant unilaterally controls whether he will be tried by a jury or a judge. Thus far in 2015, there have been 25 bench trials, but no jury trials, for defendants indicted for felony level (i.e. repeat offender) DWI. Except for this case, all of the other bench trials resulted in a verdict of Driving While Ability Impaired, a violation level offense.

Piazza faces a maximum four years in state prison when he is sentenced on July 24, 2015 at 9:30 am before Justice Boller.

The case was successfully prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Christopher Gresham, who is assigned to DA Sedita’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau.