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19 years later, law catches up to driver

A former Dunnellon resident spends eight days in the Citrus jail over a minor traffic violation from 1982.

How long is the long arm of the law? Long enough to reach back 19 years.

Robert H. Davis learned that lesson the hard way. Davis spent eight days in jail earlier this month because of a minor traffic infraction he committed _ in 1982.

Talk about justice delayed.

A reporter was unable to reach Davis last week. According to court records, here's what happened:

In June 1982, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper cited Davis for driving without a valid license. Davis skipped his July court date, so then-County Judge Leonard Damron issued a warrant for his arrest.

Davis, then a Dunnellon resident, faced two charges: the traffic citation and failure to appear in court.

The warrant gathered dust in the Citrus County courthouse. It would be unearthed only if Davis was taken into custody and brought before a judge.

That never happened. Davis lived 19 years as a wanted man, perhaps having forgotten about the charges.

Deputies wouldn't make a special trip to find someone wanted on minor charges. But that doesn't mean Davis couldn't have been caught, anyway.

The warrant was duly logged into the computer system that law enforcement agencies use. If an officer had encountered Davis and run his name through the computer system _ during a traffic stop, for example, or if Davis had been involved in a vehicle wreck _ the warrant would have popped up and Davis would have been arrested.

Davis remained free _ until March 1.

Davis, now 57, lives in Archer, which is west of Gainesville. For reasons unclear, he encountered an Alachua County sheriff's deputy March 1.

The deputy found that Davis was wanted and arrested him. Bail was set at $250, but Davis didn't post it. He stayed behind bars until Alachua transferred him to the Citrus County jail.

On March 8, Davis had a first appearance hearing before Circuit Judge Patricia Thomas. The judge was at the Citrus courthouse; Davis was at the jail and appeared by closed-circuit TV.

With a now-faded copy of case 82-2267 in front of her, the judge saw Damron's signature. Damron hasn't been a judge since 1986, when the Florida Supreme Court removed him from office.

"It is a long time," Damron said with a chuckle when a reporter told him about Davis.

But "if he violated the law he should have to suffer the consequences," the former judge said. "A man should appear (for court) and he probably could have worked something out with me. I didn't like to pull people's licenses. A lot of times that was their livelihoods."

Davis pleaded no contest to his charges. Thomas said the time he had spent in jail would serve as his punishment.

She withheld a formal finding of guilt.