N. Dakota court strikes conviction on 20-year-old DUI charge

AP News
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Posted: Mar 16, 2016 3:24 PM

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a man who was tried last year on a 20-year-old drunken driving charge.

Jason Gale was arrested for drunken driving in 1995 in Grand Forks but wasn't called to court until last July, when a jury found him guilty. Gale's attorney, Scott Brand, argued to justices in December that the delay violated Gale's right to a speedy trial.

"The government was clearly negligent. It's 20 years, memories are going to fade and that was obvious at the trial," Brand told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "The officer just memorized his report. He didn't have any independent recollection as to what happened on that night."

Grand Forks city prosecutor Kristi Pettit Venhuizen did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The opinion released late Tuesday said justices can't presume that a 20-year-old case was "diligently prosecuted when there is no evidence of any prosecution at all" and that two decades is an unprecedented amount of time for a DUI case to remain idle.

"I have never seen a case like this in my life or even so much heard of one," Brand said.

Venhuizen had argued that Gale made a concerted effort to avoid prosecution and that there was ample evidence to pursue the case. But Brand said Gale moved to Colorado shortly after the DUI arrest and was told by his previous lawyer that he would settle the case in Gale's absence. Later, Gale was involved in separate court cases in two North Dakota counties and authorities failed to flag the outstanding warrant.

Venhuizen said the city sent Gale three notices two decades ago telling him the case was not settled. Gale said he wasn't aware of the warrant until he discovered it while applying for a job earlier this year. A judge rejected his request to dismiss the case and it went to trial. Gale lost and was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

"This shows that justice may not be swift," Brand said, "but it will come when the right case presents itself."