Ex-Labor secretary moves for dismissal of charges

DeLeon Guerrero blames OAG’s alleged frivolous motion that causes 18-month delay of case

Former Department of Labor secretary Edith Eleanor DeLeon Guerrero wants the Superior Court to dismiss the traffic charges filed against her by the Office of the Attorney General.

In the alternative, DeLeon Guerrero, through assistant public defender Heather M. Zona, moved for the dismissal as time-barred count III of the information that charged her with restriction upon use of government vehicle by using or driving such vehicle that did not bear government license plates.

Zona argued that the information violates DeLeon Guerrero’s due process rights as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Zona asserted that the government lacks sufficient evidence and that defendant’s right to a speedy trial as guaranteed by the U.S. and the CNMI Constitutions has been violated.

Zona said that, on Oct. 11, 2016, DeLeon Guerrero was cited, via complaint-declaration, for violating a provision of Title I of the Commonwealth Code.

Zona pointed out that Title I is not part of the Traffic Code and that no facts were alleged on the complaint-declaration.

Last June 5, the government filed its motion for clarification of law that sought an advisory opinion from the court.

Zona said the motion requested that the court provide the prosecution with “clarification on how the court intends to interpret government vehicle.”

She said at the time the government filed its motion, Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho already had rendered a decision interpreting the same term under section 7406 of Title I of the Commonwealth Code in the traffic case against former education commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan.

Sablan was acquitted in that case.

In Sablan’s case, Camacho found the term “government vehicle” to mean a vehicle owned by the government or leased for one year or more, not a short-term rental agreement.

Last Feb. 13, Camacho denied the government’s motion and reprimanded an assistant attorney general for misrepresenting the status of the appeal of the Sablan case.

On April 4, 2018, trial was set.

Also on April 4, 2018—18 months after the original citation was issued to DeLeon Guerrero—the government filed information, charging defendant with three traffic charges, Zona said.

The information, which was filed by assistant attorney general J. Robert Glass Jr., charged the 53-year-old DeLeon Guerrero with three counts of restriction upon use of government vehicles.

Glass stated in the information that on Dec. 8, 2013 to Oct. 11, 2016, DeLeon Guerrero used a government motor vehicle that had tinting materials on its windows, that was not clearly marked as such on both front doors, and did not bear government license plates.

Originally, the OAG filed in court only a traffic citation that contains the same charges against the former Labor secretary.

In DeLeon Guerrero’s motion to dismiss, Zona said the information does not contain the charge of violating 7406(g)(1) which was contained in the initial complaint-declaration.

Zona said that, in each count of the information, a three-year time period is alleged, and DeLeon Guerrero is identified as the purported violator of the statute.

Otherwise, Zona said, no facts or circumstances are alleged.

Zona said the information must be dismissed because it fails to provide sufficient notice and violates the defendant’s due process rights.

Zona said there is no factual basis contained in the information to put defendant on notice as to which activities are being charged, and therefore, she cannot protect against double jeopardy should subsequent charges be brought because she will be unable to determine whether such offenses fall within the purview of the charges here.

“The end result is a waste of judicial resources,” Zona said.

Zona said the case must be dismissed because none of the vehicles in this case is a “government vehicle” as a matter of law.

In this case, Zona said, the government cannot show the vehicle(s) at issue in this case was/were owned by the Commonwealth, or leased by the Commonwealth or leased by the Commonwealth for more than 12 months.

“There is simply no evidence of any indicia of ownership,” she said, adding that the rental agreements supplied in discovery show exactly the opposite of what the government is required to prove.

Zona said no doubt the government wishes to re-litigate issues of law already decided in the Sablan case, but doing so is not only inappropriate, it wastes judicial resources.

Zona said the case should be dismissed because DeLeon Guerrero’s constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated.

Zona said DeLeon Guerrero was cited for purportedly three infractions on Oct. 6, 2016. Eighteen months later DeLeon Guerrero still has not been to trial.

“This type of delay is presumptively prejudicial,” Zona said.

She said dismissal is appropriate because the government is responsible for the substantial and unwarranted delay.

Zona said it would appear the only reason for the delay in this case is the government’s decision to file a seemingly frivolous motion that improperly requested an advisory opinion from the court, which was denied.

The defense lawyer said certainly the OAG is aware the court is not in the business of issuing advisory opinions.

She said the statute of limitations for offenses punishable by imprisonment of six months or less is one year after such offense was committed.

Zona said count III therefore is governed by a one-year statute of limitations.

She said because the government’s information alleging this count first was brought April 4, 2018, and the events are alleged to have taken place on Oct. 11, 2016 at the latest, count III is time-barred and must therefore be dismissed.

DeLeon Guerrero pleaded not guilty. She said it’s a rental car and obviously not government property.

According to court documents, Police Officer Jesus Santos issued the traffic citation against DeLeon Guerrero on Oct. 16, 2016, at 3:39pm in the parking lot of the Happiness Chinese Restaurant in western Garapan.

DeLeon Guerrero was the driver of a red five-door Toyota car with license plate ACU-788. The car is registered to Marfega Trading Co. Inc.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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