Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

N.D. Court: Can't Convict DUI 20 Years Later

Some things get better with age: a fine wine, a great book, this pun about a snickers ad campaign from the '80s. And some things don't age as well: sushi, JNCO jeans, and criminal prosecutions.

Which is why the North Dakota Supreme Court just tossed out a man's DUI conviction that came 20 years after the fact. The only things that should still be around from March of 1995 are re-airings of "Tommy Boy."

And I Would've Gotten Away With It, Too ...

Jason William Gale was arrested in Grand Forks, North Dakota on March 13, 1995. Gale hired attorney Henry Howe, who assured him the matter could be resolved without appearing in court, and later told his client that the charges had been reduced and a small fine had taken care of everything.

And for the next 20 years, Gale had no reason to doubt him. Gale moved to Colorado, then Florida, and now Minnesota. He's gone through 5 different employment background checks. He's been involved in two different court cases in two different counties in North Dakota. All the while holding a North Dakota driver's license and filing North Dakota income tax returns. And ever since TLC's "Creep" hit radio stations, he, and apparently the state of North Dakota, had been unaware of any DUI charge.

Until, that is, that Gale applied for a cybersecurity job in Tampa and learned of an outstanding warrant. When he inquired about the charges, Grand Forks County set the matter for trial.

... If It Weren't for You Meddling Courts!

Now I know what you're thinking -- who even remembers decades-old DUI arrests? And the answer is no one. There was just one witness at Gale's trial, arresting officer Lt. Bill Macki, whose entire testimony relied on the report he had written in the wee hours of the night. In fact, the results of blood alcohol test performed on Gale couldn't be admitted into evidence because the analyst responsible for the test no longer works down at the crime lab. Nevertheless, a jury found Gale guilty and ordered him to pay $500.

Gale appealed his conviction, and, two decades after the last pair of Reebok Pumps were sold, the North Dakota Supreme Court agreed. The court said 20 years is an unprecedented amount of time for a DUI case to remain idle, and that justices couldn't presume that a 20-year-old case was "diligently prosecuted when there is no evidence of any prosecution at all."

May we propose a simple rule for Grand Forks prosecutors in the future: if the charges are older than the Spice Girls, maybe you don't wannabe taking them to trial.

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