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Letter: Decision to drop charges not made lightly

Published: Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 11:35 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 1:56 p.m. CST

To the Editor:

I welcome being assessed based on my office’s performance, as Jill Duchnowski suggests in her Jan. 22 column, because I could not be more pleased with the quality of my staff, and the work that they perform for the people of DeKalb County. However, as a proper assessment must be based on accurate reporting of all the relevant facts, I am writing today to correct certain misperceptions which might result from this column.

First, I did not, personally and alone, decide to dismiss the aggravated DUI charges against Patricia Schmidt, as the column strongly implies. Instead, after being thoroughly advised of the facts, I chose not to countermand a decision which had been made by the lead prosecutor, and approved by my predecessor, following consultation with the Weber and Getzelman families, long before I took office.

Second, this decision was not based simply on doubts about credible evidence being sufficient to prove DUI beyond a reasonable doubt. The decision was based on there being very limited evidence of impairment at all, beyond the fact that Schmidt caused the crash and had been prescribed certain drugs, which were present in her blood at levels not exceeding the prescribed doses. 

Therefore, the State’s Attorney’s office, under Clay Campbell, consulted three independent labs, and found that no qualified expert would testify that Schmidt was under the influence. As a result, the determination was made that the case could not go to trial on the DUI counts. To do so would have totally undermined the state’s credibility in pursuing a conviction based on reckless conduct, rather than impairment.

I completely agreed with this decision, because I believe in professionalism, not grandstanding. I would never force my assistants into going to trial on counts that they believe cannot be proven. A prosecutor’s foremost ethical obligation is to seek justice, not merely to convict, and I am proud of my prosecution team for exceeding that standard in this case.

I felt the need to write this letter because much of what I told Jill Duchnowski in a lengthy interview months ago was not reflected in her column. As I said, I welcome a fair assessment of my office’s performance by the people of this county, but they need all the facts, presented reliably, in order to arrive at a fair conclusion.

Richard Schmack

DeKalb County State’s Attorney

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