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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Case against DUI driver was solid
To the editor:
Like many in Island County, I was pleased that Randi Shelton pled guilty to taking the life of Karen Gervais Boone in a tragic and preventable act of vehicular homicide. I was somewhat disheartened to read in your article that my only involvement in the case was my failure to be surprised by the timing of the guilty plea.
I have devoted scores of hours to this prosecution to ensure it resulted in a conviction (either by plea or by jury verdict). Ordinarily, I shy away from trumpeting my own work, but would like to take this opportunity to explain what goes into a successful prosecution.
While people may plead guilty for a number of reasons, the primary reason in my experience is that they weigh the strength of the state’s case against the possible consequences of trial. That balancing by both parties forms the basis for plea bargaining that sometimes results in reduced penalties.
The prosecutor’s job at the negotiating stage is to fortify the legal and factual underpinnings of the case. We try to convince the defense that the legal authority and the weight of the evidence support a plea bargain proposed by the state. Often, pre-trial motions to throw out evidence alter the negotiating playing field.
In the Shelton case, my position was that there would be no plea bargain and that I would ask for the maximum penalty whether the conviction came by plea or jury verdict. My position is based on evidence that Ms. Shelton has two previous DUI convictions and had a blood alcohol level of 0.28. My negotiating stance required that we respond to every pre-trial challenge made and anticipate some that weren’t. We battled defense motions to throw out the blood evidence, to block hospital records, to suppress Ms. Shelton’s statements to police and medics, and to dismiss the case for alleged prosecutorial misconduct.
The defense mounted a significant challenge to the state toxicology lab, which tested her blood. It was based on a scandal that received national attention and brought down the state toxicologist and the lab manager and has undercut hundreds of DUI prosecutions around the state.
Rather than seek a compromise solution in the face of that challenge, I stood our ground because I knew the test results in this case were reliable. In responding to these challenges, I have interviewed the former and current state toxicologist, the lab manager, the scientist who tested Ms. Shelton’s blood and the State Patrol internal auditors to make sure I understood every detail of the lab operation. I read and responded to hundreds of pages of defense briefing and hearing transcripts from around the state. I took two of my deputies to the toxicology laboratory to learn firsthand every step of the process of testing blood and evidence handling procedures. I have schooled myself in the science behind gas chromatography and best practices for handling biological evidence. I have learned the details of six years of lab audits. I have wrangled with doctors and administrators to obtain Ms. Shelton’s medical records and then fought the same battle in court. I did this, and more, because it was necessary to achieve the best result for my client: the citizens of Island County.
Yes, your article correctly reported that I was not particularly surprised by the timing of the guilty plea. But, I should have told your reporter that my reaction was not important. What is important is that we took a hard line where it was deserved, and did the work necessary to persuade Ms. Shelton that the end result was inescapable. I have no reason not to believe Mr. Platt’s statement that Shelton pled guilty to accept responsibility and spare the Gervais and Boone families additional suffering. However, I like to think that my office had a hand in helping her get to that point.
Gregory M. Banks
Island County Prosecutor