It would seem that for someone charged with drug possession, showing up to court high would be a poor choice. Ditto for someone accused of drunken driving to appear in court while drunk.
But according to authorities, that very scenario has played out in the Twin Falls County courthouse twice in just the past three weeks.
First, there was Trent James Thompson, 27, who showed up to court May 5 for a preliminary hearing in a felony drug possession case. Thompson arrived at the courthouse that Friday morning and upon entering the courtroom, drew the attention of Twin Falls Police Sgt. Kevin Loosli, who was on hand to testify in another case.
“Thompson appeared to have difficulty walking, but sat down in the back of the courtroom where I could no longer see him,” Loosli wrote in a sworn affidavit. When Thompson's case was called, Loosli was still watching: “I noticed that Thompson had involuntary muscle spasms of (the) hands and face. Thompson was unable to stand still and was contorting his body in abnormal ways … I recognized that Thompson was under the influence of a central nervous system stimulant, specifically methamphetamine.”
Magistrate Judge Roger Harris excused Thompson after delaying his hearing, but two minutes later, after Harris called the next case, a prosecutor interrupted to tell the judge that Loosli confronted Thompson in the hallway and believed he was high.
Harris ordered Thompson, who was on court compliance, to undergo a drug test. He failed, according to the test administrator, and he admitted to Loosli he’d smoked methamphetamine the night before. Loosli arrested Thompson, who was charged the next Monday with a misdemeanor count of being under the influence of a controlled substance in public.
But Thompson’s dubious court appearance was just the first of its kind this month.
On Tuesday, Nicole D. Seidel, 49, of Twin Falls made an initial appearance in Twin Falls County Magistrate Court to answer to a charge of excessive driving under the influence. She's charged with driving Sunday with a blood alcohol level of .304, more than triple the legal limit to drive in Idaho. She had posted bond and appeared in court out of custody.
Magistrate Judge Calvin Campbell read Seidel her rights and the potential penalties and then, because she had already posted bond, ordered her to go to court compliance, a probation-like program that monitors defendants during their cases for drug and alcohol use, among other things.
Forty minutes after Seidel was excused, she was back in the courtroom. Her test had showed her blood alcohol level was .229.
“When you were arraigned, you were under the influence of alcohol,” Campbell told her while revoking her bond. “The arraignment we performed is not valid.”
The next day, Seidel was arraigned again, this time via video from jail custody. Campbell went through the same arraignment process as the day prior and released Seidel on her own recognizance, ordering her to again check in with court compliance.
Imparting a final bit of advice, Campbell acknowledged, without saying as much, that showing up to court drunk to answer to a drunken driving charge was probably the sign of an alcohol-dependency problem. His counsel to Seidel could have just as easily applied to Thompson and his drug use.
“Given the nature of this case and the events of yesterday, (court compliance) is going to test you regularly,” Campbell said. “You may find it difficult to abide by one of the court’s conditions. If that is the case, do not hesitate to speak to your attorney or whoever may be necessary to seek treatment or assistance rather than come back and violate the court’s order for consuming alcohol.”