By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
An eight and one-half year delay in the filing of charges against a man convicted of assaulting a woman in Laramie did not deny him his right to due process of law, Wyoming’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court unanimously upheld the first degree sexual assault conviction of Martin Alan Ridinger, finding the delay in filing charges against him in connection with the 2010 incident was the result of negligence on the part of police and prosecutors, not an intentional effort to deny him his rights to due process.
“Ordinary negligence on the part of the state is not enough to establish a due process violation, the state must act intentionally,” said the ruling written by Justice Keith Kautz.
According to the ruling, Ridinger was accused of assaulting a woman in July 2010 in Laramie, however, he was not charged with a crime until February 2019.
Ridinger argued the delay in the filing of charges violated his right to due process because after such a period of time, memories of the event would not be clear, giving prosecutors an advantage despite the fact “the evidence would not support the prosecution, let alone the conviction.”
Justices found the delay was not intentional. The ruling said the Albany County Sheriff’s Office investigated the allegations in 2010 and collected evidence including a rape kit. The investigating officer was unable to find Ridinger for an interview.
A few months after the incident, the detective in the case was appointed undersheriff and his cases were handed over to another officer.
“For some unknown reason, this case was not among them,” the ruling said, adding the rape kit was never submitted to the State Crime Lab for analysis.
In 2017, the Crime Lab received a grant to collect and process all rape kits in the state. The kit from Ridinger’s case was among those submitted by Albany County and in November 2018, the Crime Lab determined DNA found in the kit belonged to Ridinger.
However, much of the other evidence collected in the course of the original investigation could not be found and the officer who conducted the original investigation had died.
Officers re-interviewed the victim and sent the clothing she was wearing the evening of the incident to the Crime Lab for analysis. About six months later, Ridinger was charged.
Justices agreed there were troubling aspects to the delay, but none of them amounted to an effort to deny Ridinger his right to due process.
“It is troublesome that (the) rape kit was not sent to the lab in 2010 and that the investigation was not assigned to (the new investigator) in November 2010,” the opinion said. “It is also disturbing that certain evidence was either lost or not properly preserved. Nevertheless, there is no indication that these failures were intentional, as opposed to merely negligent.”