California man pleads guilty to felony eluding officers

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Custer County Prosecutor Justin Oleson has resolved a nearly yearlong case where a California man who led deputies on a car chase from Stanley to Ketchum last summer has pleaded guilty to a single felony charge of eluding officers in exchange for other felonies being dismissed or reduced to misdemeanors under a binding plea agreement that Judge Alan Stephens accepted in March.

Judge Stephens on March 16 sentenced Peter Mitchell Constantine, born in 1954, to 10 years of unsupervised probation in California, with credit for 279 days served in Idaho jails and in State Hospital South, and granted the defendant a withheld judgment on the eluding charge.

However, if Constantine ever becomes an Idaho resident, under the plea agreement his unsupervised probation under Judge Stephens ends and becomes supervised by an Idaho probation officer and subject to standard terms and conditions. If Constantine commits any crimes, the judge can revoke his probation and withheld judgment and sentence him to the maximum prison sentence under the law. Even if Constantine visits or drives through Idaho, he must contact Custer County Sheriff’s Office, the judge ruled.

Incidents

Constantine was arrested June 10, 2016, after he led officers on a chase from Custer to Blaine county after ramming Deputy Brandyn Knight’s patrol vehicle near Stanley. Under a plea agreement signed by Constantine and Prosecutor Oleson on March 6, a felony charge of aggravated assault with a sentence enhancement for Constantine’s using his Chevy Corvette as a deadly weapon was dropped.

The defendant drove his Corvette at or under the maximum speed limit most of the way from Stanley to Ketchum, and his average speed was probably slower according to law enforcement.

Officers twice deployed nail or spike strips on the Wood River side of Galena Summit, but due to the sports car’s low-profile, high-performance tires with stiff, heavy duty sidewalls, the Corvette was still driving on rubber, not its wheel rims, after attempts to deflate tires with spike strips.

Constantine’s Corvette was finally stopped along the main drag in Ketchum. Various bystanders took still photos or videos of the arrest with their smart phones, some of which were posted on social media.

After his arrest, Constantine made things difficult for Custer County Sheriff’s Office, which led to additional felony charges of assault or battery upon jail personnel last June and felony malicious injury to or destruction of a jail for throwing cups of water on a dispatcher and deputy and destroying a TV remote control. At the time, it was thought the liquid might have been urine.

Under the plea agreement, the judge reduced one felony battery charge to misdemeanor battery and dismissed a misdemeanor count of disturbing the peace. He also reduced the second felony battery charge to a misdemeanor and dismissed a felony charge of injury to or destruction of a jail.

Complications

Constantine was sent to the Bonneville County Jail and his case became even more complicated at a November 2016 hearing in which Judge Stephens declared him mentally unfit to stand trial or aid in his defense and committed him to State Hospital South in Blackfoot for up to 90 days. The idea was to see if treatment would allow him to aid in his own defense. A psychiatrist had diagnosed Constantine as bipolar-manic with psychotic features and said that while Constantine is intelligent and understands the legal system, his mental illness prevented him from making any decisions in his defense at that time.

According to court records, Judge Stephens ordered that Constantine’s commitment in Blackfoot be terminated on December 30. A jury trial was set for March 22, but that trial was vacated at the March 16 hearing after the judge accepted the binding plea agreement between Constantine and the state and sentenced him on the one remaining felony eluding charge. Stephens ordered that the one-year term of probation for Constantine’s two misdemeanor batteries on jail personnel run concurrently with the 10 years of probation on his eluding charge.

The judge had appointed Public Defender Dave Cannon to Constantine’s case, as both “shadow counsel,” since Constantine wanted to represent himself, and as his regular attorney at different times during the long case. Cannon filed motions to withdraw as Constantine’s attorney, since the defendant was not cooperating with him. The judge kept Cannon as shadow counsel, but Constantine negotiated his own plea agreement with the state.

Sentencing

After reading the binding plea agreement and hearing arguments in March, Judge Stephens said he was willing to be bound by the agreement as a reasonable way to resolve Constantine’s case.

After Constantine pleaded guilty to felony eluding, the judge placed Constantine under oath and asked him what he’d done to warrant the charge. “When I was above Stanley and tried to pull over, I didn’t pull over until I reached Ketchum,” Constantine said.

“That’s a ways,” Stephens said.

“Yeah,” Constantine replied.

The state is not alleging that Constantine speeded 30 mph or more over the limit, Oleson told the judge, but that he swerved into oncoming traffic at times and hit a deputy’s patrol vehicle, causing $500 worth of damage.

Constantine also admitted to throwing small cups of water on Dispatch Supervisor Linda Lumpkin and Chief Deputy Mike Talbot and told the judge he “deeply regrets” those actions.

In granting a withheld judgment with no underlying prison sentence imposed, Stephens told Constantine that if he commits any crimes in California or elsewhere in the next 10 years, he can revoke probation and sentence him to the stiffest penalty for felony eluding that Idaho law allows. “So you’ve got to be good,” the judge said.

“OK,” Constantine replied.

Stephens ordered Constantine to pay Custer County $500 in restitution for damage to the deputy’s patrol vehicle and $183.85 for time spent cleaning up Custer County Jail after his June 12, 2016 misdeeds.

“Good luck, sir,” Stephens told Constantine at the conclusion of his March 16 sentencing hearing.

Sense

The plea agreement and sentence of unsupervised probation in California made sense for several reasons in Constantine’s case, Oleson told The Challis Messenger earlier this week. It didn’t make sense to keep Constantine on supervised probation in Idaho where he has no support from family and friends. If Constantine ever moves to Idaho (he’s said he will not) the state can then monitor him on supervised probation.

Constantine was sufficiently punished for his crime by serving 279 days in jail, and the plea agreement spares Custer County taxpayers the substantial cost of a jury trial, at which Constantine insisted on representing himself. Such a trial could have ended with unpredictable results, including a mistrial.

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