City Desk

The Dipper Man Faces The Judge

The Dipper Man has nodded off. Dante Dickens is sitting outside Courtroom 321. His belly is full of Burger King. His eyes are closed. His shiny head tilts off to the left against his jacket color. He is wearing his work boots, dark blue work pants, and a work shirt with his name sewn on his chest. In a few minutes, he gets to see the resolution of his drug case. Prosecutors and police alleged that he was found asleep in his idling car, a dipper in his hand on August 22, 2008.

Dickens had gotten to D.C. Superior Court at 8:30 a.m. He says he works as a maintenance man in a White Oak apartment building.

Dickens had to wait on the prosecution's last witness, the chemist. Judge Harold Cushenberry Jr. decided to call for lunch. The proceedings are set to begin in a few minutes at 2:20 p.m. Dickens wakes himself up and walks into the empty court room. He takes a seat in the back.

Judge Cushenberry appears.

"Where's the chemist?" he asks from the bench.

Prosecutor Matthew Kluge goes and gets her from the witness room just outside the courtroom. It's 2:27 p.m. and that dipper has to be examined.

The chemist, Jennifer McKay, takes the stand. She is dressed in a black pantsuit and glasses. She looks small on the witness stand. She runs down lab no. LV792 aka the dipper. She says the dipper tested positive for PCP.

The dipper, McKay says, had 3.7 percent purity/concentration plus or minus .3 percent. It weighed .0081 grams. "It was slightly burned," she says of the dipper. "Because it had been smoked."

To test it, McKay testifies that she cut off the dipper's filter. She did not test to see if the dipper contained tobacco. But she stated that it was a "brown colored plant material."

Dickens' defense attorney David Stringer asks whether there was any way to know where the PCP came from: the wrapper or the "brown colored plant material?" Or the filter?

Stringer is in a deep bind. There's just no way of getting around that positive test for PCP no matter how many questions he asks about the untested filter or the variations of purity. A dipper is still gonna be a dipper. Dickens can only look on expressionless. This is just defense attorney business.

At 2:50 p.m., it's Dickens' turn. Judge Cushenberry asks Dickens if he plans to testify. Stringer confers with his client. Then asks for two or three minutes outside the courtroom. The request is granted.

Dickens and his attorney leave. The courtroom suddenly becomes the quietest place in the world. There is no talking. Judge Cushenberry just stares out in the rows of empty seats. The prosecutor keeps his head in his notes. The time does not fly.

Dickens and the attorney are retrieved by a courtroom clerk. Dickens has decided against testifying. After the prosecutor makes his closing (running down the basic events:

*Dickens was seen in his idling car asleep.

*911 was called.

*When Officer Harris and his partner arrived, they could not wake Dickens up. Fire and EMS were called. They could not do anything to rouse the man.

*Officer Harris' partner reached into the car and turned it off. The officer noticed the car smelled like PCP smoke.

*Dickens was found with a dipper in his hand. The dipper tested positive for PCP.

Now it is Stringer's turn. He argues there was no proof that Dickens was smoking that cigarette. "I don't know what the cigarette was doing in Mr. Dickens' hand," Stringer argues. "He may not know either."

Sometimes defense attorneys have so very little to work with. Stringer then asks for the "benefit of the doubt" and takes a seat.

"There is no doubt," Judge Cushenberry says.

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