Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
When Albuquerque police officer Lou Golson was shot four times during a traffic stop last January, he had 180 pending cases against accused drunken drivers in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court.
Golson, a 31-year veteran of APD and a member of its DWI Unit, had just 36 of those cases still scheduled for trial when he returned to light duty in June. More than 140 of his DWI cases had been dismissed while he recuperated and could not appear in court to testify.
Most of Golson’s cases were the victim of what’s called the “Six-month Rule” – a state Supreme Court rule that sets a limit of six months from the time an accused drunken driver is arraigned to the time the case should come to trial.
The time limit is routinely stretched by defense attorneys and less often by prosecutors. Extensions require a judge’s approval.
Most of Golson’s cases were granted 30-day extensions under “exceptional circumstances,” but the District Attorney’s Office said that, even with those extensions, more than 140 cases were dismissed for running afoul of the speedy trial rule.
Golson said he thought prosecutors should have been able to nolle pros (dismiss without prejudice) while he was sidelined “so I could have refiled the cases when I returned to work.”
“It would have been a lot of work (to refile the cases),” Golson said, “but I would have done it.”
District attorney spokeswoman Kayla Anderson said that strategy wouldn’t have made a difference.
“Even if Officer Golson’s cases would have been nolled at the time of his shooting, the 182 days would continue to run down” in those cases in which the defendant had already been arraigned, she said in written responses to Journal questions.
Several attorneys confirmed that interpretation of the rule, which was designed to make it tougher to delay cases.
In fact, the rule has often led to the dismissal of numerous cases involving police officers called up for extended National Guard or military reserve deployments.
Anderson said five of Golson’s cases in which the defendants had not yet been arraigned were dismissed without prejudice and that Golson can refile them.
Arraignment in DWI cases for people in jail have to occur within two days of their arrest. For those released on bail bonds before appearing in court, the arraignment has to be scheduled within 30 days of the arrest or the filing of the criminal complaint.
Officers like Golson who are assigned to APD’s DWI Unit are involved in about 95 percent of all drunken driving cases in the city. When a patrol officer pulls over a suspected drunken driver, members of the unit are often called in to do field sobriety tests and take over the case.
“I wish there was something that could have saved those cases,” Golson said. “I understand the entire system is overloaded, the courts, the prosecutors, us.
“I arrest drunk drivers,” he said. “It’s what I do.”
Recently, APD and the District Attorney’s Office have been under fire for the number of DWI cases being dismissed.
The conviction rate for drunken driving cases in Metro Court fell sharply for a second straight year in 2014, dropping below 50 percent for the first time in at least 17 years, according to a report prepared by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
The conviction rate for DWI cases disposed of in Metro Court last year was 47.5 percent, down from 57.9 percent in 2013 and 67.9 percent in 2012, according to the annual statistical report on DWI case dispositions.
The District Attorney’s Office has placed most of the blame on problems with video from officers’ lapel cameras not being available for evidence and DWI cases being dismissed as a result.
But APD Chief Gorden Eden attributes many of the dismissals to officers being scheduled for multiple DWI hearings at the same time on the same day in front of different judges; officers being scheduled for DWI hearings when they are already scheduled for military leave or vacation; and defense attorneys scheduling officers for mandatory pretrial interviews when they are scheduled for court.
“The court and the District Attorney’s Office have access to each officer’s schedule,” Eden said. “They routinely schedule court hearings on officers’ days off.”
Anderson said the DA’s Office doesn’t have input into scheduling officers, but the “Court is interested in ensuring there is a fair administration of justice, not officer schedules.”
She also said multiple police officers are often involved in a DWI case, so scheduling issues are even more complicated in those cases.
Eden said court officials told his staff at a recent meeting that the court didn’t have to pay attention to officer schedules when setting cases for hearing dates.
“APD has been part of all our discussion about scheduling for years,” Metro Court Program Manager Camille Cordova said. “We are looking at capping the number of cases an officer can be scheduled for at any one time.”
Metro Court does have an officer check-in system that tells all judges and their clerks that an officer is in the building and available to testify. There is also an email system that allows a judge to summon a police officer from another courtroom in order to testify.
Last Wednesday morning, Golson waited in court for one of his 36 remaining DWI cases to go to trial.
The case began two years and nine months ago. Attorneys in the case stretched the six-month rule by seeking repeated time extensions, which were granted by a judge.
Golson originally arrested Pedro Marentes in October 2012. The case has been kicking around since then, having survived a motion to suppress evidence in the case and 14 time extensions – 12 by the defense and two by the prosecution – prior to Golson being shot in January.
Golson cited Marentes for driving on the wrong side of the street and running a stop sign, and arrested him for second offense DWI. Marentes’ blood-alcohol breath test showed a 0.07 blood-alcohol level about an hour after the stop. A driver is presumed drunk with a level of 0.08.
Marentes, 36, is the brother of a police officer and was represented by attorney Fred Mowrer, who also represents the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.
Metro Court Judge John Duran was assigned the case after Golson was shot in January and granted two extensions to allow Golson to recover from his wounds.
The case was scheduled for trial last Wednesday.
Mowrer, who has represented Marentes since the time of his charge nearly three years ago, asked to withdraw from the case because of a “conflict of interest” that he had explained to Duran and prosecutors in chambers.
Mowrer didn’t specify the conflict of interest, but Golson said he believed it was the fact that Mowrer was present during Golson’s interview with APD Internal Affairs, which was reviewing the January shootout with Christopher Cook, during which Golson was wounded.
Duran allowed Mowrer to withdraw as Marentes’ attorney.
“I don’t want this case coming back on appeal,” Duran said.
The judge ordered Mowrer to help Marentes find a new attorney quickly and set Marentes’ trial for this coming Friday.
“That (Mowrer’s conflict) may have caused a problem down the road,” Golson said.
Mowrer had no comment as he left the courtroom.
While the Marentes case has been pending for more than two years and nine months, it took just seven months to resolve the case against Cook, the man charged with shooting Golson.
During a traffic stop on Jan. 3, Cook fired at Golson four times. Two shots hit Golson’s body armor; one bullet struck him in the side and another hit him in the abdomen, traveling into his left leg, where it cracked his femur in half. He broke his wrist when he fell to the ground. Golson returned fire, but didn’t hit Cook.
The entire incident was caught on Golson’s lapel camera.
Golson has a metal rod and four bolts in his left leg, and a plate and 10 screws in his wrist.
Cook was arrested three days after the shooting. He was sentenced July 10 to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to shooting at or from a motor vehicle (great bodily harm), aggravated battery on a police officer and receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle.
Golson continues to receive physical therapy for his wounds and could face more surgery.
When officer Lou Golson was shot in january, he had 180 DWI cases pending.
He wasn’t able to return to work until June.