Ninth Judicial District Attorney appointed to handle Durango DA’s DUI case
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
DURANGO, Colorado ” Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson reached a plea agreement with the DA in Durango for other punishment instead of jail time for the man’s third DUI.
Craig Westberg, the DA for Archuleta, La Plata and San Juan counties, refused to shake Beeson’s hand on the way out of the courtroom. Westberg was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months probation, 60 hours of public service, 10 days of electronic home monitoring and costs and fees of $4,015.47. He also loses his driver’s license for a year and must attend alcohol education classes.
In a plea deal struck as jurors were being seated for the trial Oct. 21, Westberg pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and DUI. Charges of careless driving and failure to report an accident were dismissed.
The DUI charge is under a deferred judgment and sentence, meaning it will disappear from Westberg’s record and he won’t have another DUI conviction if he obeys probation for 18 months, according to the La Plata County Combined Courts office.
Westberg’s term as DA ends in January, and he is not seeking re-election.
Westberg was contacted by police Oct. 10, 2007, and issued a summons around noon at his home. Two witnesses reported that his car was weaving badly and bumped into stationary objects. Westberg eventually told police he took four Ambien sleeping pills. He wrote a letter to the Durango Herald newspaper shortly after the arrest saying he tried to run a quick errand before the pills kicked in and his vision became suddenly blurred.
Durango public defenders Christian Champagne and Tom Williamson criticized the sentence and said any regular person would have gotten 30 to 90 days of jail and no deferred judgment on the DUI charge. They stressed that they were expressing their own opinions and not those of the public defender’s office.
“It’s a real slap in the face if we all want to believe that everyone is equal under the law, but what this shows is that’s not the case,” Champagne said. “It’s a travesty of justice.”
One Glenwood Springs attorney agreed that generally a sentence for a third DUI would include “at least” a sentence of 30 to 90 days in jail. Westberg’s case wasn’t a routine DUI, however, and Westberg was not a routine drunken driver.
Beeson said several factors made the plea deal and sentence appropriate including that alcohol was not involved in Westberg’s DUI and 30 years had passed since Westberg’s last DUI conviction. Beeson is the district attorney for Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.
“People have a right to criticize their public servants,” he said. “I also know that those who come forth with criticism do not know the ins and outs of the case.”
Beeson said a jury could have acquitted Westberg on an involuntary intoxication defense. Westberg’s defense attorney maintained Westberg took sleeping pills in the morning, went to sleep, woke up in a trance and involuntarily went for a drive, the Durango Herald reported.
But in Westberg’s letter to the newspaper, he said he decided to run an errand before the pills kicked in. Beeson said the letter could be meaningless in court and a variety of other evidence was also suppressed. He said another key concern was that a urine test that was taken would not have pinpointed the time Westberg took the Ambien as a blood draw would have, and there’s evidence that Ambien can cause sleep-walking and sleep-driving.
He added that Durango’s judicial district just voted for a new DA who campaigned on a platform of rehabilitation instead of punishment. That tells him the majority voice in Durango wants rehabilitation efforts more than they want punishment.
Beeson said that under the circumstances of this case, it wouldn’t be appropriate to risk putting a prosecutor in jail with people who would want to hurt him and it was more important to get him off the roads and into treatment.
Still, Williamson said, the fact that the prior DUI convictions were so long ago should not have mattered. He said, “I can tell you that around here, they still count them. … I, anyone else, my clients, we would all be in jail on a third offense in this county.”
Beeson stands by his decision and said it was a fair and just resolution to the case that anyone else would have gotten.
Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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