High court upholds conviction despite grand jury’s conduct
September 16, 2004
The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction of Mitchell Dettloff for leaving the scene of a fatal accident, despite the fact prosecutors presented a potpourri of false allegations in convincing the grand jury to indict him.
The high court panel of Bill Maupin, Bob Rose and Michael Douglas pointed out that the trial jury convicted Dettloff only of the charges that he left the scene – for which the court said there was more than enough proof. Three died and one person was seriously injured in the accident in Clark County.
Dettloff appealed, saying the entire conviction should be thrown out because of the false evidence presented to the grand jury.
That included allegations not only that he left the scene of the April 2001 accident, but that he went to a “gentlemen’s club” after the accident, had been drinking heavily, stopped after the accident and yelled obscenities at the victims before leaving, and his children were with him at the time. Other claims to the grand jury included that Dettloff retained a lawyer who specialized in handling drunken-driving cases rather than talk to police.
The prosecutors instructed the grand jury on offenses, including child endangerment, drunken driving, child abuse and neglect, and firearms violations – none of which related to the charges they were seeking.
“Although grand jury revelations caused the defense to expend considerable resources to disprove the allegations, we cannot conclude that the use of the evidence at the grand jury proceedings amounted to misconduct,” the opinion states.
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The high court also upheld the district court’s refusal to allow defense counsel to bring up the issues of false evidence presented to the grand jury during Dettloff’s trial. The justices ruled Dettloff can’t prove prejudice from the ruling because the trial jury cleared him of all but the hit-and-run charges – “that were clearly proved by Dettloff’s failure to stop for an obviously serious traffic accident.” And they say the conviction was based on evidence presented at trial, not what was presented to the grand jury.
The justices did dismiss two of three counts of leaving the scene of the accident, saying there was only one accident. But the opinion makes no judgment on the conduct of prosecutors in presenting the case to the grand jury.
Contact Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.