“We conclude that the State failed to meet its burden to provide sufficient evidence for the district court to find probable cause to bind Defendant over on the enumerated charges; thus, the district court did not err by dismissing the charges against Defendant. Accordingly, we affirm the dismissal.” So reads the final paragraph in a Memorandum Opinion by the State Supreme Court, in a case against Heath White, clearing him of charges including embezzlement, violations of the Government Conduct Act and misuse of public money.
The appeal was brought by the Attorney General’s office on behalf of the State.
White was charged with “eleven counts of various financial crimes alleged to have occurred during his time as the Sheriff of Torrance County,” of which the State pursued charges for seven, the document says.
“During the hearing, the district court raised concerns about the search warrants secured to search [White’s] home, garage, and the store, based on what the district court perceived as problems with the underlying affidavit. The district court requested that the parties brief the issue of suppression of evidence obtained as a result of the warrants and deferred ruling on probable cause,” the Memorandum says.
The Court said that in a preliminary hearing, the state is required to establish that a crime has been committed, and that probable cause exists that the person charged committed it.
“In this case, [White’s] charges were based on an allegation that he used taxpayer funds for his personal use. The State claimed that the evidence supporting this allegation included “suspicious purchases made by the sheriff’s department” and said “several thousand dollars’ worth of items belonging to the sheriff’s department” were found in White’s house and car.
White served two terms as Torrance County Sheriff, then leaving the department after being elected Magistrate Judge. He has been off the bench since shortly after charges were brought against him.
The Memorandum goes on to say that three weeks before the search warrants were executed, “[White] contacted the sheriff’s department and disclosed that he had items stored in his home belonging to the department that he needed to return. [White] contacted the sheriff’s department again, after discovering more items, including firearms, and requested to meet with someone so that he could return the items quickly. Further, it was a regular practice for county equipment to be stored at other deputies’ homes.”
The Memorandum also says that each purchase order introduced by the State at the preliminary hearing had been approved by the purchasing department. “Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the district court’s finding, we agree with the district court that there was insufficient evidence to find a commission of a crime: all the purchase orders were approved, it was regular practice for county employees to store county-owned items at their homes, and [White] attempted to return items once he was no longer employed with the sheriff’s department.”
The document says that the State “failed to cite evidence” and “provide[d] little authority for its arguments.”
“And finally, in arguing that the seven charges are supported by probable cause, the State provide[d] no more than two sentences of argument for each charge, and on two occasions the State used the same arguments for separate crimes. … Again, none of these arguments are supported by citations to relevant authority or to the record proper,” the Court wrote. “The State does not explain the elements of the crimes charged or how the facts support a finding of probable cause that those specific crimes were committed, leaving this Court to speculate as to the legal arguments intended. This Court is under no obligation to review unclear or undeveloped arguments.”
The Independent reached out to White for comment for this story, and was referred to his attorney, Sam Bregman. Bregman did not return requests for comment before The Independent went to press.