Liar, liar, pants on fire? Well, maybe that isn’t the case. But, it’s not every day you see an attorney’s pants catch fire in the middle of a closing argument. Especially in an arson case.
28 year old Stephen Gutierrez, a 2015 graduate of Florida International University’s law school, blames a defective e-cigarette battery for causing his clothing to go up in flames while in court arguing on behalf of his defendant, ironically charged with arson. News which turned out to be not so good for Claudy Charles, who has ultimately convicted by the jury of intentionally setting his car on fire after the entertaining closing arguments. Charles, 48, had claimed his car spontaneously caught fire in South Miaimi-Dade, but was brought before the jury on suspicion that this wasn’t the case.
The incident may cause the defendant to appeal, as he now has room to claim he had an unfair disadvantage during a pivotal point in the trial. “An apparent spontaneous fire, of all things, in the courtroom, in front of the jury and during closing arguments could have very well prejudiced the defendant and deprived him of a fair trial,” an attorney with Black, Srebnick, Kornspan & Stumpf says.
“There were two or three [e-cigarettes] in my pocket at the time,” Gutierrez, who was unharmed, stated in an email. “I noticed the heat was intensifying and left the courtroom as quickly as possible, heading straight into the bathroom. I was able to toss the battery in water after it singed my pocket open.” Court deputies immediately confiscated the disregarded batteries as evidence, which could show the fire was set purposely by the defense to demonstrate how things can inadvertently catch fire, and they were being handled by police and prosecutors.
“This was not staged,” Gutierrez insists, although it was noted by witnesses in the courtroom that the lawyer was fiddling in his pocket just prior to addressing jurors. “It was surreal,” one observer said. “A lot of people could have been hurt,” another noted. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge MIchael Hanzman may decide in the next several days to hold Gutierrez in contempt of court.
E-cigarettes, which deliver vaporized nicotine through a heated liquid solution, have been deemed potentially hazardous, and are currently banned by the U.S. Department of Transportation from checked bags on airplanes. This isn’t the first time that an e-cigarette battery has caused a spontaneous fire, either. Just last year, another Florida resident, Evan Spahlinger, filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer after an e-cigarette exploded in his mouth, burning his face and putting the man in a brief coma. He claimed the company had sold the e-cigarette to him as a safer alternative to traditional smoking. Obviously, the alternative came with its own hazards.
“After careful research, I now know this can happen,” Gutierrez says. “I am not the only one this has happened to, but I am in a position to shed light on the situation. The dangers of these devices, and accessories have led me to quit using e-cigarette products.”