North Dakota's schools superintendent has been cited for care required and fined $30 but could face more serious consequences following her arrest on suspicion of drunken driving.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, 50, was stopped late Wednesday by a North Dakota Highway Patrol trooper who said she was driving erratically on Interstate 94. She has 14 days in which to pay the fine or request a hearing on the care required citation.
The larger issue is that Baesler refused to submit to blood and breath testing, according to the patrol. That starts a complicated process with both administrative and criminal components, according to Fargo attorney Mark Friese, an expert on DUI law.
On the administrative side, the state Department of Transportation will revoke Baesler's driving privileges for 180 days. She could request a hearing and try to prevail. She also could “cure” her test-taking refusal by agreeing to plead guilty in court to DUI. The department would then only suspend her license, for 91 days.
On the criminal side, she's likely to be charged with DUI and with "DUI refusal."
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"It is still unclear (in North Dakota law) whether “DUI refusal” is a separate crime, or whether “DUI refusal” is an alternative way to commit the offense of DUI," Friese said. "The law is quite ambiguous on this point."
A conviction of either carries with it the potential for a criminal record, jail time, probation, a chemical dependency evaluation and treatment, fines and court costs. A driver can be convicted of DUI even without chemical test evidence, according to Friese and Highway Patrol Sgt. Wade Kadrmas.
Friese said the "vast majority" of people in Baesler's position plead guilty in criminal court, notify the transportation department that they have done so, and thus turn their driver's license revocation into a suspension.
Baesler issued a statement Thursday morning saying she had "made a serious mistake" and that she was "going to learn from this, seek help, and focus on my well-being and health.” She did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday on how she plans to proceed.
It's not Baesler's first brush with law enforcement while in public office. She was arrested in 2015 after a domestic assault incident at her home in Mandan. She was accused of simple assault, a charge that was later dropped for lack of evidence.
Before she became state schools superintendent, Baesler pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft in 1997 in Mandan municipal court. She received a deferred imposition of sentence and was ordered to pay $100. Her spokesman has said she was grocery shopping with her three young children and placed a bag of macadamia nuts in her purse and forgot to pay for them.
Baesler was first elected in 2012 and reelected in 2016. She has said she plans to seek a third term and the Republican Party's letter of support this year. The state superintendent is a nonpartisan official, but political parties issues letters of support for candidates.
Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com
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