State of Oregon vs. Brian Redmond
In 2005 I had been studying and building fireworks for nearly three years when my (now) ex-wife decided to make the divorce really nasty. I had moved out over two months before, but she decided to call the local sherriff's office and tell them that I had threatened to "blow her up." This resulted in a raid by the Oregon State Police along with many local sherriffs and the local fire department. I made a call to her to try and discuss some settlement agreements, but instead of answering herself, I was greeted by a detective from the Explosive Ordinances Division of the oregon State Police. I drove over to see what was going on and found the entire property surrounded by CRIME SCENE tape. They inventoried and confiscated everything (I was very helpful throught the proceedings) and I left thinking that, at worst, I was out the money and time for all the chemicals and fireworks I had lost. FYI, I was not arrested.
Jump ahead nearly three months later. I got a phone call from my attorney (who was handling the divorce and had been made aware of the raid on my former home) that I had just been indicted on "secret charges." He had never heard of such a thing, but we couldn't get anyone to tell us what the charges might have been. We began to formulate some ideas relating to the raid and figured I would be charged with some misdemeanors for possession of fireworks. We came across Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 166.382. This law clearly states that " 'Destructive device' does not include any device which is designed primarily or redesigned primarily for use as a signaling, pyrotechnic, line throwing, safety or similar device" which led us to believe that the charges would not be as serious as a felony (i.e. possession of a destructive device). So we waited.
Just before the arraignment we got the list of charges: 4 felony counts of manufacture of a destructive device, 5 felony counts of possession of a destructive device, 1 misdemeanor for possession of illegal fireworks, and one misdemeanor for reckless endangerment (which came solely from the fact that when the battery in the garage smoke detector had died, I took it down and never got around to replacing it). Nine felony charges. That seemed rather unbelievable to me and my attorney. Here's how they figured them.
The ninth felony charge was for possession of a destructive device. This was for a cardboard oatmeal container that contained about 2 grams of flash powder. I guess they figured that I hadn't built the cardboard container...only put the flash powder in it.
The misdemeanor charge was for my unfinished 5 inch shell. They trusted me that there was no flash powder in it. One of the worst parts of the whole experience was that they destroyed this shell with high explosives and I never got to see the results of my work.
We battled with the state for over a year trying to get them to see that there were no felonies committed, but they would not budge. The best plea bargain they came up with still had me pleading guilty to three felonies. We tried to get the case thrown out because the evidence had been destroyed before the defense had a chance to have it examined by an expert. No dice. So it came down to a trial. I hired Bill Ofca as an expert witness and began discussing with my attorney the option of defending myself. Was I insane?! My reasoning was that the law was very clear, so the case would come down to getting the state's primary witness (Detective Hakim from the Oregon State Police) to admit in court that the items they had seized were indeed fireworks. I knew fireworks much better than my attorney and he agreed that in this particular case, my idea would probably be best. I also waived my right to trial by jury because I knew that the judge hearing the case was intelligent and fair, but a jury was almost certainly not going to be as intelligent and my ex-wife was dramatic enough that I didn't want the possibility of a "soft heart" being swayed by her.
The judge lectured me on the possible severity of my descision, but I was firm. Then, on the first day of the trial, he questioned whether I might not be better off taking a plea bargain. (The audio clips are from the court record and I've applied some filters to them to eliminate a lot of the background noise. They aren't perfect).
Judge Branford's suggestion
Since the prosecution made it clear that there were multiple charges in the plea, he stopped and the trial began. It was a two day affair and I won't bore anyone with all the details, but here are a few highlights:
A lot of my case came down to causing Detective Hakim to contradict himself on the stand. Here he states that fireworks are not explosive, even though ORS 480.110 lists explosive among the characteristics of fireworks.
After more direction and clarification from me, he goes on to change his answer, though you can tell he didn't want to.
Throughout the case, Hakim referred to the small salutes as M-100's. His primary stance was that if a device contained flash powder, it was automatically a destructive device, not a firework. I badgered him a bit until he was finally forced to agree with me that my salutes could certainly have been fireworks. Even with the poor audio quality you can hear his sigh as he finally gives in.
At one point, we were getting bogged down with Hakim's insistance that four of the five items confiscated were destructive devices instead of fireworks, and yet the fifth was most certainly a firework. It finally came down to his opinion that I was "nervous" when talking about flash powder. I've got news for you...I was nervous the entire night when he raided my former home and questioned me. I had no idea what would happen or how serious things might turn out. But, I was no more nervous talking about flash powder than the myriad of other items and chemicals I discussed with him that evening.
Initially, when my expert witness, Mr. Ofca, found out I would be defending myself, he was hesitant to commit. My attorney assured him of his confidence in my abilities and convinced him he wouldn't be "getting on board a burning ship." At the end of the first day of the trial, Mr. Ofca approached me and said, "I changed my mind. If I'm ever accused of a crime, I want you to defend me." Probably a little exagerated, but in her summation, even the Assistant DA who prosecuted the case admitted my strengths. A small victory, but maybe an omen of what was to come.
After deliberating for some time, the judge returned and gave his verdict. There is nothing like the feeling of being cleared of felony charges. The judge saw the law exactly as I did and only found me guilty of the two misdemeanors. The funny thing is, I had offered the DA a plea of guilty to 5 counts of possession of illegal fireworks because I was guilty of that. The state was only interested in trying to convict me of felonies, though, or my charges could have been greater in the end. I ended up with a modest fine and three years "probation" in which the only requirement was not to have anything to do with any type of fireworks. The judge even let me retain possession of all my confiscated materials, though they're still sitting in storage in Oregon as I haven't arranged to retrieve them yet.
I was pleased with the final outcome and I hope I've set some legal precedent for the future. I'm still interested in pyrotechnics, but I will probably never take up the hobby again. Don't let this disuade you if you're interested, though. Simply get all the necessay permits, follow proper storage procedures and don't get involved with anyone who is psychotic or suffering from bipolar or multiple personality disorder.