Idaho Supreme Court upholds conviction

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COEUR d’ALENE — The felony conviction of a Spokane man who eluded Coeur d’Alene police was upheld by the Idaho Supreme Court despite objections that prosecutors used old evidence from prior criminal conduct.

Jeffrey L. Alwin, 34, of Spokane was convicted of racing away from a traffic stop in Coeur d’Alene at 1:30 a.m. Aug. 3, 2015, in a black Mercedes after police detected the odor of alcohol from inside the car and noted Alwin’s slurred speech, according to court records.

“When (police) requested the male’s driver’s license registration and insurance information, (Alwin) responded with a slurred incoherent response … reached across the vehicle to the glove box, returned his hand from the glove box empty, placed his hand on the shifter, and drove away,” according to an account in court records.

Police were issued a warrant and Alwin later turned himself in.

At trial, Kootenai County prosecutors admitted as evidence the booking mug shot, of Alwin from an earlier non-related incident, that police used to identify the suspect after he drove away.

In the picture, Alwin is dressed in yellow jail clothing and sports a black eye.

Defense attorneys objected to using the mug shot, calling it inadmissible character evidence, but Coeur d’Alene’s First District Judge Cynthia K.C. Meyer allowed the mug shot because no conduct was being alleged by the photo. It had simply been used by police to identify Alwin to obtain a warrant, the court concluded.

An appellate court unanimously agreed that the district judge abused her discretion in admitting the booking photo, overturned the district court’s ruling, and called for a new trial. But the Supreme Court, after a second appeal — this time by prosecutors — reaffirmed Meyer’s decision to allow the mug shot, thereby cementing Alwin’s conviction.

Chief Justice Roger S. Burdick and Justices Joel Horton, Robyn Brody, and G, Richard Bevan affirmed the district court’s decision. Justice John Stegner dissented from the high court’s conclusion that the mug shot was not erroneously admitted.

“The district judge did not do what was required under (the state’s court rules of evidence) because she did not look closely at the photo and perceived it as a driver’s license photo,” Stegner wrote.

Court rules generally prevent a person’s history from being used to convict him or her of a current charge, Stegner wrote.

Alwin was sentenced to no more than two years in prison, was placed on probation and served 30 days in jail.

Alwin’s local charges go back to 2005 and include disturbing the peace, unlawful entry and malicious injury to property.

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