County court’s first jury case

Published 7:00 am Friday, August 29, 2014

After years of hearing pleas and holding bench trials, the Pearl River County Court held its first jury trial, which concerned a felony DUI case.

According to an indictment filed in the County Court, the case was against Pearl River County resident Busch Christensen, who was pulled over in the county allegedly driving drunk.

The indictment states the officer that conducted the stop noted Christensen had the strong odor of alcoholic beverage coming from him, had a bloodshot and glassy appearance to his eyes and his speech was slurred. 

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Christensen was convicted of two previous DUIs on March 24, 2011, for a first offense that occurred on Feb. 18, 2011 and a second offense that occurred on Aug. 28, 2010, the indictment states.

The honorable County Court Judge Richelle Lumpkin said after Christensen declined to enter a guilty plea on the third charge, the court held a jury trial, where he was found guilty of felony DUI third offense. He will be sentenced in a subsequent term of the court. He faces up to five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine, but not less than one year and a $1,000 fine, according to state statute.

Lumpkin said jury service is a way community members can give something back.

“This is just such a great public service people can participate in,” Lumpkin said.

The County Court was established in 2010 to help move criminal cases through the judicial system faster, freeing up time in the Circuit Court. Cases heard in the court include civil cases up to $200,000, criminal cases that do not carry a life sentence and youth cases.

After taking office in January of 2011, Lumpkin said she has had hundreds of cases come through her court, but until this month did not have cause to hold a jury trial. The reason was because most defendants either pleaded guilty to their charge , both parties came to an agreement or the matter could be handled through a bench trial.

But when a felony matter comes through the court, and the defendant declines to plead guilty, they have the right to a jury trial.

Since the court’s establishment, cases have been moving smoothly through the system, and it’s achieving what it was established to do, reduce the backlog of cases.

The court is supposed to hold term for three weeks and then use the fourth week of the month to catch up on paper work, but the case load has been so great that Lumpkin said there are times when they hold hearings on the fourth week as well.

“That’s good, that’s what we’re here for,” Lumpkin said. “We don’t want cases to be stale. All parties want the situation to be resolved so they can move forward.”

Next year Lumpkin will begin her second term, since she is running unopposed in the upcoming election.