North Dakota Jury Convicts Homeschoolers Upon “Mystery Evidence”
Bottineau, North Dakota, is a remote farming community of about 2,000 persons lying on the Canadian boarder. On March 26, Bottineau was the site of the first jury trial on homeschooling in recent years in that state.
Under North Dakota law, the first time a family is charged with truancy, the matter is considered an “infraction” which does not entitle them, usually, to have their case heard by a jury. However, for second offenses, the case is tried as a misdemeanor and defendants are entitled to a jury because there is the possibility that the people will be sent to jail.
Gerald and Sheryl Lund and Richard and Kathy Reimche were put on trial for the second time for teaching their children at home. Two years previously they had been convicted in the same court. The convictions were appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court which rejected their constitutional arguments. An attempt to have the United States Supreme Court hear their case was denied.
The state failed to prove several critical elements of the crime of “truancy.” There was no proof entered that the defendants lived in the school district during the time of the charges. There was no proof that Sheryl Lund or Kathy Reimche were the mothers of the children. In fact, Sheryl Lund’s name was not even mentioned in the course of the evidence. Nor was there any proof offered that these defendants were in fact the same people who were the parents of the children in question. Most people have seen television trials where the prosecutor asks, “Do you see that person here in the courtroom today?” The standard answer is, “Yes, it is the person sitting at the table by the defense attorney.” This type of identification was never done for any of the defendants.
The case was submitted to the jury without the defense calling any witnesses in light of the failures to produce evidence by the state. However, the jury came back with a guilty verdict despite the serious failures in the court’s evidence. Several experienced courtroom observers, including various county personnel, expressed surprise at the jury’s verdict.
However, the guilty verdict is far from the end of the matter for the constitutional issues were tried before the court immediately upon the reading of the jury’s verdict.
The case against the Lund and Reimche families was part of a week of trials in North Dakota handled by HSLDA President Michael Farris and attorney Greg Lange of Hazen, North Dakota during the week of March 24.
The first trial was against the Mark and Lynette Dagley family and was held in Mandan before Judge Thomas Schneider. Since this was the first offense for the Dagley family, their trial was without a jury. The judge listened to a great deal of positive evidence produced both by defense witnesses, including Dr. Raymond Moore, as well as solid evidence from Dr. Ron Statsny, the assistant superintendent for public instruction from the state of North Dakota.
Judge Schneider required a trial brief from the prosecutor in response to the HSLDA brief filed at the opening of the trial. HSLDA has submitted its responding brief and we await the judge’s decision.
Meanwhile, in Bottineau, the court entertained a similar post-trial briefing schedule which had not been completed as of the date of publication of this newsletter.
The “guilty” verdicts will give us an additional basis for appeal in the event that the trial court there refuses to grant our constitutional defenses.
The Anderson trial will be handled in Jamestown, North Dakota, while this newsletter is at the printers. Michael Smith, HSLDA Vice President, served as lead counsel in that case with the assistance of Chris Klicka and Jean Samelson of Fargo.