Indictment returned against Arizona Rep. Trish Groe for felony DUI
Matthew Benson | The Arizona Republic | Sept. 18, 2007 01:53 PM
A La Paz County grand jury Tuesday returned a two-count indictment against state Rep. Trish Groe, including a felony charge of drunken driving for which a conviction would force her to resign her seat.
The indictment came at a court hearing shortly after noon. Groe, R-Lake Havasu City, faces one count of aggravated DUI, a Class 4 felony, and a second count of false reporting, a misdemeanor related to allegedly inaccurate statements that she gave police the night of her arrest.
The charges stem from Groe's March 22 arrest in La Paz County while driving from Phoenix to her western Arizona home. She was driving 70 mph in a 55 mph zone, and her blood-alcohol level was borderline extreme - between 0.158 and 0.148 percent, authorities say.
Her license had been revoked, and she had a prior DUI conviction from 1999.
Prosecutors are seeking the aggravated felony conviction because Groe's license was suspended, due to an unpaid speeding ticket, at the time of her arrest. If convicted, she faces at least four months in jail and fines and other surcharges of roughly $2,500.
The indictment pushes forward a case that has progressed chaotically for nearly six months. While she was arrested in La Paz County, county Attorney Martin Brannan initially cited a conflict of interest in prosecuting his hometown lawmaker. He succeeded in having the case transferred to Yuma County.
But prosecutors there dumped the case back on Brannan after he was quoted criticizing a preliminary plea agreement Yuma County had reached that would have allowed Groe to serve just one day in jail. Later, The Arizona Republic obtained an e-mail Brannan wrote Groe four days after her arrest that spoke of his political support for her, and indicated that the two needed to talk regarding pending legislation in which he had an interest.
Groe's attorney said the e-mail had "all kinds of possible intentions and implications," though Brannan explained it as an innocent, if clumsy, attempt to reach out to his local lawmaker on unrelated legislation.
Eventually, Brannan found an independent prosecutor to take Groe DUI case: Phoenix attorney Dennis Wilenchik.
Groe next faces an arraignment hearing Oct. 1, with a pre-trial conference to follow about six weeks later. If the case goes to trial, it's unlikely to begin before early next year.
If a plea agreement can be reached, Groe probably would have the charge reduced to a misdemeanor. That would allow her to retain her District 3 seat, but she would probably face 30-60 days in jail and fines totaling about $1,600.
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