LDS DUI Arraignment


I began my legal career as a criminal prosecutor in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in California. One of my first assignments was in the courtroom of Judge Ragnar Engebretsen. (Yes, that is his real name.) Judge Engebretsen was a faithful member of the LDS church, and he was serving as a high councilor in his stake at the time.

We had completed our work for the day, and I was gathering my case files when the court clerk’s telephone rang.  The clerk answered the phone and then whispered to the judge.  Judge Engebretsen asked if I would remain while he handled a late arraignment.  I agreed.

An “arraignment” is a criminal defendant’s first appearance in court. At the arraignment a defendant is advised of the charges against him, he is apprised of his constitutional rights, and he is given the opportunity to enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.”

I was writing notes on my files when I heard the courtroom door open.  I glanced behind me and noticed a 19-year-old young man enter. 

Judge Engebretsen picked up the court file and announced, “In the case of the People of the State of California vs. Joseph Fielding Benson.” (No, that is not his real name, but his true name is similarly distinctive.) That got my attention.

Judge Engebretsen inquired, “Are you Joseph Fielding Benson?” 

The young man replied, “Yes, sir.” 

Judge Engebretsen continued, “That sounds like a Utah name. Are you from Utah?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“That sounds like a Mormon name. Are you a Mormon?” 

The defendant turned red, gulped, and replied, “Yes, sir.” 

“You are charged with drunk driving. You should know better. I am a high councilor in my stake of the church, and Mr. London, the prosecutor sitting at the table next to you, is on the high council in his stake. Son, you are in trouble…

“Do you want to talk to Mr. London to see if you can resolve your case today?”

The defendant did several double takes between the judge and me, and he finally answered, “I think I need a lawyer.”

This young man was in court facing drunk driving charges when he should have been serving a mission for the Lord. He forgot that whether we do what’s right or do what’s wrong the consequences will follow. He forgot to choose the right.

2 thoughts on “LDS DUI Arraignment

  1. Do you remember another amazing coincidence a few years back when you were the judge on a case and Curtis Hildt was chosen as potential Juror number 11 and I was number 12? We sat next to one another and marveled at the coincidence of us sitting together on your case with the possibility of being chosen as jurors.

    Liked by 1 person

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