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Two dismissed drunken-driving cases reinstated in Berkeley County

March 30, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Two drunken-driving cases that were dismissed in February by a county magistrate have been reinstated, according to an order filed this week in Berkeley County Circuit Court.The order, which was signed by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III, said that Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher C. Quasebarth and defense attorney Harley O. Wagner agreed that Magistrate JoAnn Overington lacked the authority to dismiss the DUI cases on Feb. 6.The attorneys also agreed that Overington failed to follow parts of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure for Magistrate Courts relating to accepting pleas from criminal defendants and promptly scheduling trial dates, according to the order.Overington, who is serving her eighth year as a county magistrate, has said that she thought she could lower the pleas to reckless driving to settle the DUI cases. But Overington realized she made a mistake and needed a prosecutor to agree to the resolution.The order, which negated a scheduled court hearing Friday, also said that Quasebarth and Wagner agreed to work with the state Division of Motor Vehicles to assure that any future administrative actions taken against the two defendants in the DUI cases take into account any administrative penalty already imposed as a result of Overington’s now null-and-void actions.After dismissing the DUI charges, Overington initiated new criminal complaints that she signed as the complainant and authorizing magistrate charging the defendants with reckless driving, according to court documents.The order granted a writ of prohibition to prevent the enforcement of the dismissals, as well as the initiation of the new cases. It further ordered that the new reckless driving cases be dissolved as though they had never been initiated. The terms of the judgments, the reported convictions and sentences also were ordered to be dissolved by the circuit court order, and electronic records of the reckless driving pleas also were to be removed.In granting a writ of mandamus, the court also ordered Overington to “abide hereafter by the requirements of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure for Magistrate Courts.” Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said in February that the prosecution¿s only plea offer in the drunken-driving cases was to allow the defendants to expunge the DUI charges from their records as part of a program allowed under state law because they were first-time offenders.¿There was no reason to reduce this to reckless driving,¿ Games-Neely had said in an interview.The drunken-driving complaints were filed by West Virginia State Trooper P.L. North after he arrested the defendants in traffic stops last year, according to court documents. Under terms of the now null-and-void pleas, each defendant was ordered to pay more than $660 in court costs and fines.The defendants had blood-alcohol contents of 0.137 and 0.132 when they were arrested, the court documents said.

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