Steamboat Springs Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall may not have to go to criminal trial for charges of driving under the influence and prohibited use of a weapon.
Even as her investigation into the case continues, Karen Romeo, assistant district attorney for Colorado's Fifth Judicial District, said a plea bargain still is possible, and perhaps preferable.
"I'm not even sure we're going to go to trial," Romeo said. "I would hope not. I think both sides would like to see it resolved. Trials bring an uncertain result."
Routt County is in the 14th Judicial District, but citing a conflict of interest, the local DA's Office handed over the case to District Attorney Mark Hurlbert in the Fifth Judicial District. Hurlbert assigned the case to Romeo. Wall is scheduled to appear in Routt County Court for the first time at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Prosecutors continue to investigate the charges against Wall, which resulted from an Oct. 27 traffic stop near U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road. According to the Colorado State Patrol, Wall was pulled over in his unmarked county vehicle for failing to dim his headlights. Trooper Brett Hilling cited him for that, in addition to the DUI and related weapons charge.
Wall refused roadside sobriety tests, and he has maintained that he is innocent of the charges. He was not arrested, but was released to a Sheriff's Office deputy who drove Wall and his girlfriend home that night.
Romeo said she has been "inundated" by people who claim to have information related to the incident. In addition to officers and others present during Wall's traffic stop, Romeo said her office has interviewed people who attended the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association event at Sidney Peak Ranch, from which Wall was returning when he was pulled over.
"There were a number of, obviously, witnesses to it," Romeo said.
Alcohol was served at the Chamber event. Wall has said he was not drunk. He has refused to say whether he had anything to drink that night. Wall's lawyer, Steamboat attorney Ron Smith, declined to comment about the case Thursday.
Romeo said she has been in touch with Smith's staff but has yet to directly speak to Smith about the specific terms of a possible plea bargain.
If the case does go to trial, Romeo is adamant that Wall receive a fair one. As such, she refused to answer questions that addressed the specifics of the case.
"The more I say to you in the paper, the less likely (a fair trial) is to happen," Romeo said. "Also, the investigation is not complete."
Also in December, there will be a Colorado Department of Revenue hearing related to Wall's refusal to take a chemical breath test the night of his traffic stop to determine his blood alcohol content. A Breathalyzer test refusal carries a one-year driver's license suspension. The State Patrol issued Wall an affidavit and notice of revocation the night of his traffic stop, but Wall disputed it to the Department of Revenue. The Department of Revenue granted Wall a temporary license and hearing on the matter.
Chief Hearing Officer Bill Cowles said Wall's hearing, which will be heard over the phone, is scheduled for Dec. 19.
Cowles said the Department of Revenue hearing is completely separate from the criminal trial. A hearing officer will determine whether the State Patrol made a reasonable traffic stop and whether officers had probable cause to request the chemical breath test. If so, the one-year suspension will be upheld. Should Wall be found guilty of DUI in a criminal trial, he would face an additional one-year suspension of his license, and thus faces a potential two-year suspension of his license, Cowles said.
Romeo, speaking in general and not about Wall's case in particular, said breath test refusals can work both ways for prosecutors. On one hand, it means there is less evidence to work with. On the other, the refusal can be portrayed as a sign of guilt.
"There are certainly cases that we do get to argue that to a jury," Romeo said.
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