Drunk Prosecutor Derails Child Molestation Case, Man Walks Free

December 21, 2018 Updated: December 21, 2018

He walked into the courtroom ready to enter his guilty plea for sexual assault of a 13-year-old boy. Two months later, and the 23-year-old Iowa man walked free, his case dismissed because the county attorney not only missed filing deadlines but also missed that guilty plea hearing because she was too busy being arrested for drunkenness.

An Iowa judge ruled on Dec. 17, that Dennis Simmerman should be freed from the County Clarke jail, where he has spent 15 months awaiting trial for sex abuse charges, according to local media reports.

According to the judge, the failures of Clarke County Attorney Michelle Rivera had allowed the clock to run out on the case.

Attorney Rivera was arrested in the courtroom on Oct. 18—the day of Simmerman’s guilty plea—by a deputy who noticed that she was “slurring her words and stumbling on her feet,” according to Demoines Register.

The next day she missed a crucial deadline—she had to either grant Simmerman his right to a speedy trial or file for an extension.

“The county attorney’s unavailability at the last hearing was the finale following unexplained periods of inactivity and lack of responsiveness that prevented disposition of this case within one year,” Judge Marti Mertz wrote, according to the Register, in the December ruling.

Rivera has so far not responded to any requests for comment on the release of Simmerman or the collapse of the case, according to media reports.

Simmerman’s attorney, Marshall Orsini,  said a list of mistakes by Rivera had delayed his client’s trial.

“If the defendant is not put on trial (and) is not tried within a year, you have the potential to have that case dismissed and that’s what happened here,” he told KCCI. 

‘Winning the Battle and Losing the War’

Simmerman had initially pleaded not guilty to the charges shortly after his arrest back in September 2017.

He was initially charged with third-degree sexual abuse and disseminating obscene material to a minor by telephone, according to the Register.

An early motion claiming Simmerman suffered from a mental disorder was dismissed and the court found him competent to stand trial.

He later tried to enter an Alford plea—a plea allowed in some states which concedes that the evidence will inevitably find the defendant guilty, but maintains innocence. That offer was rejected.

Simmerman’s attorney emailed Rivera in August and made an offer for a guilty plea to a class D felony.

Finally, in September, Rivera agreed to the plea—only to be arrested at the courthouse on the day of the plea hearing a month later.

Rivera was fined $65 for being drunk in court. She apologized after the incident.

She was arrested again for drunkenness on Dec. 15, this time charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated and with child endangerment.

Rivera lost her bid for re-election for county attorney in November, according to local reports.

Simmerman cannot face charges again for the same crime under the double jeopardy rule. However, there are various other options that the state could pursue, according to some legal experts.

Clarke County prosecutors could try to file different charges, such as lascivious acts against a child, Drake University law professor Robert Rigg, a criminal law expert, told AP. Rigg also said that Simmerman has only double-jeopardy protection against state prosecution, leaving the door open to federal prosecution.

“He may end up winning the battle and losing the war,” Rigg said.

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