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Man faces charges for failing to register as sex offender

Staff Writer | March 27, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A Bonner County man was ordered to stand trial Wednesday in First District Court on a new charge for failing to register as a sex offender.

Jacob James Orville Gunter, 29, was bound over to face the charge in First District Court, despite some hesitation by Magistrate Judge Justin Julian.

“This is a comedy of errors more than anything,” Julian said Wednesday.

As per the release agreement Gunter signed in January, Gunter was supposed to register as a sex offender within 48 hours of being released and was not permitted to use the internet, among other requirements.

The state called six witnesses during Wednesday’s hearing and presented multiple pieces of evidence, including one of Gunter’s Telmate phone calls while he was detained on the charge.

Gunter chose to testify during Wednesday’s preliminary hearing, he was the defense’s only witness.

“When I was released, I was told while I was still in the jail that I needed to get directly to probation. I was never aware of registration or anything. I was under the assumption that through probation I would be able to start [registering],” Gunter said while under oath.

On the afternoon of Feb. 28 when Gunter was released, he went to the probation office on Lake Street in Sandpoint. Upon arrival, Gunter was given the “standard” probation intake paperwork, as testified by Bonner County Probation Officer Forrest Moore.

Moore testified that it was the end of the work day on Thursday, and that he was unaware of the nature of Gunter’s charges, or else Gunter would have been given the appropriate intake paperwork.

After Gunter left the office, Moore realized the nature of the charges Gunter was facing, and made three different phone calls in attempts to contact him.

Gunter was never successfully contacted, and did not discuss the registration procedure with anyone in the probation office.

It should be noted that probation officers have no part in sex offender registration, as that is done with through the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office.

For the sake of context, the probation office is closed on Friday’s and Monday’s, which may have caused a further delay in Gunter’s registration process, although that detail remains unconfirmed in court documents.

On March 1, Gunter emailed personnel at the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office asking for information about how to register. The sheriff’s office gave Gunter the appropriate registration directions, but a day and a half later on March 3, Gunter was arrested for failing to register.

Gunter’s actions on March 2 were not addressed while on the record.

Julian said that Gunter was set up for failure.

“I hate to sound negative but it almost sounds like the system is designed to set people up to fail. And nobody helped him along the way, a lot of disinformation, a lot of errors in the system. And he was essentially set up to fail,” Julian said. “And that’s exactly what he did, fail. All of the evidence clearly shows that the defendant did comply. However …”

Despite Gunter’s observed intent to comply with the registration requirement, Julian acknowledged that Gunter’s case still met the probable cause requirement judges look for during preliminary hearings.

“However there is probable cause in the allegations that the defendant did fail to register within the required two business days.”

In addition to being released on his own recognizance, Julian scheduled Gunter to appear once more before First District Judge Lamont Berecz on April 7. If convicted, Gunter could see a penalty of likely up to 15 years in state prison on charges from two separate sexual assault cases with unique victims.

The steep consequences come after Gunter’s prior January sentencing in the prior cases where he was convicted on a charge of lewd conduct, and another for a charge of sexual battery.

A third sexual assualt case against Gunter was dismissed during the court process.

Gunter was sentenced to a year in the courts retained jurisdiction program as part of his sentence.

Also known as a “rider,” the court’s retained jurisdiction program is an alternative form of sentencing. Instead of serving their sentence to term, the accused is made to participate in treatment and intensive education programs during the first year of their sentence. After the first year, the accused can request to go on probation, however the judge can still choose to sentence them to term. The program is offered as a substitute for traditional sentencing in hope of rehabilitating an offender.

Since Gunter is facing new changes, Judge Berecz may revoke his lighter sentence.

“I’m not going to impose a straight up prison sentence right now.” Berecz said during the Jan. 7 sentencing. “I’m also not going to give you probation. I’m going to put you on a rider. I think that you are somebody who needs serious treatment and intervention right now to get their life on track.”

“Just to be clear,” Berecz continued, “if I’m wrong, then you need to be in prison for a substantial amount of time. So you have it over your head, I’m imposing a 15 year prison sentence, with five years fixed.”

It’s unclear what will become of Gunter’s rider, but it is certain that his journey through the court process is not over.

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