Raleigh, N.C. — A drunken-driving case involving a 16-year-old boy will be retried after Wake County's district attorney filed a motion in which he claims a defense attorney misled a judge and prosecutor to get the case to court nearly three weeks ahead of schedule.
"This case wasn't handled the right way. It was brought up by somebody before its court date, and a judgment was entered that doesn't seem in keeping with the law of North Carolina," District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Friday.
The case involves Henry Horne, who was arrested Dec. 10 on a driving while impaired charge and other traffic-related offenses.
Horne was given a court date of Feb. 13, but, Willoughby said in a motion last week, Horne’s attorney James Crouch showed up in court on Jan. 20 and told Judge Keith Gregory and Assistant District Attorney April Flythe that her supervisor agreed to put the case on the court calendar for that day.
In North Carolina, only prosecutors have the authority to set trial dates. Flythe's supervisor, Assistant District Attorney Steven Saad, never authorized the Jan. 20 court date, Willoughby said in the motion.
In addition, Willoughby said in the motion, Crouch also "through some unknown means caused the official court file to be brought to District Judge Gregory's courtroom" and that Crouch also gave Flythe only two pages of a 10-page police report that did not include details about a 17-year-old passenger riding in Horne's car at the time of his arrest.
Under state law, that is an aggravating factor in which a defendant is subject to a minimum of 30 days' active imprisonment, Willoughby said in his motion.
Instead, Horne pleaded guilty, and Gregory gave him a 120-day suspended prison sentence, 12 months of unsupervised probation, 72 hours of community service and ordered him to pay $640 in fines and court costs, according to court documents.
Gregory ruled that the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an aggravating factor existed because there were no witnesses present to prove it.
Flythe, Willoughby said in the motion, had pulled up the original 10-page report in court and offered to the judge the aggravating factor that there was a passenger under the age of 18 in the car.
Gregory declined to comment on the matter Friday.
Crouch said Friday that he moved up the case because he was going to be out of the country on Feb. 13, but he declined to comment on the district attorney's accusation that he made representations that "were false and were misleading."
"I don't have any comment," he said. "I think the order has been entered stating why it was set aside."
Another judge's order, filed Thursday, vacates Horne's guilty plea and sentence and puts the case back on the court docket for Feb. 13.
"The actions appear to be suspicious, but we didn’t have a hearing, so we don’t know what the motive was," Willoughby said. "We can all look at the case and see this strange outcome. In a case like this, it gives us pause to get a closer look."
Willoughby said his office will become more vigilant in ensuring court dates aren't improperly changed.
"We deal with most people on a trust basis," he said. "We can’t handle this high volume of cases in traffic court if we can’t rely on the integrity of the participants. When something strikes at that integrity, it strikes at the very fabric of the court system, and we have to address it and find out what happened and correct it."
It is his responsibility, he said, to ensure the Wake County court system runs fairly.
"We have to do things in the right way," he said. "We have to do them transparently, or people lose faith in the credibility and integrity of the court system."