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City of Grand Forks v. Gale

Supreme Court of North Dakota

March 15, 2016

City of Grand Forks, Plaintiff and Appellee
Jason William Gale, Defendant and Appellant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable Jon J. Jensen, Judge.

Kristi Pettit Venhuizen, City Prosecutor, Grand Forks, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Scott P. Brand, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant.

Erica J. Shively, Bismarck, ND, for amicus curiae North Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by Kapsner, Justice. Dale V. Sandstrom, concurred in the result.


Page 704

Kapsner, Justice.

[¶1] A jury found Jason Gale guilty of driving under the influence. He appeals from the criminal judgment. We conclude his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated, and we reverse the judgment.


[¶2] Gale was cited for driving under the influence on April 20, 1995. He retained attorney Henry Howe. Howe requested Gale sign a " limited power of attorney" that authorized Howe to appear in court on Gale's behalf. Gale signed the power of attorney, and it was filed with the district court. Howe requested a jury trial. Although the record does not contain information regarding plea negotiations that presumably took place, a sentencing hearing was scheduled for June 21, 1995. Gale failed to appear at the sentencing hearing, despite the court having mailed him three notices stating he was required to appear personally. After Gale failed to appear, the court issued a warrant for his arrest.

[¶3] No subsequent action was taken on the case until March 5, 2015, when Gale filed a motion to recall the arrest warrant. The City of Grand Forks then filed an amended information, and Gale filed a motion to dismiss arguing his right to a speedy trial had been violated. The district court held a hearing on his motion. Gale asserted he was unaware of the pending case and bench warrant because Howe had told him the case was closed and that Gale's bond had been used to pay the associated fines. Gale claimed he was made aware of the open case when a pre-employment background check revealed the warrant. He asserted the City did not prosecute his case for twenty years despite the fact that he had appeared in North Dakota courts for various criminal and child support proceedings. Gale argued his address was on file with the state, and the City's failure to prosecute the matter amounted to a speedy trial violation. The City claimed it could not locate Gale because he moved to Colorado soon after he failed to appear. The City claimed it had no knowledge of Gale's whereabouts, he caused the delay, and there was no speedy trial violation. The district court found Gale's testimony incredible. The court reasoned Gale likely knew the case was pending but chose not to do anything about it. The court found it likely the only reason Gale took action in 2015 was because his employment opportunity was dependent upon resolution of the warrant. The court denied Gale's motion to dismiss.

[¶4] A jury trial was held on July 7, 2015. The arresting officer was the only witness to testify. Although the officer

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remembered some of the incident, his testimony was based largely on a report he had written after the arrest. No blood-alcohol test evidence was admitted. The jury found Gale guilty, and the district court sentenced him in accordance with 1995 DUI laws. Gale filed a timely appeal. He argues he was convicted and sentenced in violation of his state and federal constitutional rights to a speedy trial.


[¶5] The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article 1, section 12 of the North Dakota Constitution guarantee the right to a speedy trial. " [T]he right to speedy trial is a more vague concept than other procedural rights." Barker v. Wingo,407 U.S. 514, 521, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972). " It secures rights to a defendant. It does not preclude the rights of public justice." Beavers v. Haubert,198 U.S. 77, 87, 25 S.Ct. 573, 49 L.Ed. 950 (1905). It has been called " amorphous, slippery, and necessarily relative." Vermont v. Brillon,556 U.S. 81, 89, 129 S.Ct. 1283, 173 L.Ed.2d 231 (2009). It is impossible to determine when the right has been denied with precision. Barker, at 521. Nonetheless, " [t]he history of the right to a speedy trial and its reception in this country clearly establish ...

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