EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Prosecutor Stanley Mortensen

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Mortensen discusses self-defense, lethal force, substance abuse, the loaded topic of legalizing marijuana, and mandatory sentencing.

COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho – Stanley Mortensen is running unopposed in the Republican primary for Kootenai County Prosecutor. Even though the county prosecutor is an elected office, Mortensen was appointed to his current position by the county commissioners in September 2022, due to the vacancy left by Barry McHugh when he was selected to replace Judge Lansing Haynes. Mortensen has been with the prosecutor’s office for eleven years.

The Kootenai Journal asked Mortensen to address a series of issues pertaining to his office. The first issue addressed was the current level of staffing. “On paper, it looks like we are almost full, but it feels like we are down two,” stated Mortensen. The most recent hire is a recent law school graduate who must still pass the bar. In the meantime, the new hire is allowed to practice law under what is known as a practice license, however, this requires close supervision. This leaves only one vacant position which cannot be filled until October. The office is budgeted for 25 positions, five in the civil division and 20 in the criminal division. The civil remains fully staffed. 

Next, Mortensen was asked about property crimes and self-defense laws. His office handles all felony cases in the county, as well as misdemeanors outside the city limits of Rathdrum, Post Falls, and Coeur d’Alene. There have been reports of increased property crime, where young people are targeting vehicles, and based on comments posted to local social media groups, citizens may not have a firm grasp on self-defense laws and when lethal force is justified.

“People have the right to defend themselves,” stated Mortensen. “When using self-defense, when you respond with force, you have to use reasonable and proportional force. So, you can only use deadly force, in a deadly force situation.”  

“If you, or a citizen, is asking yourself, ‘Can I use deadly force?’ you need to ask yourself, ‘Is someone using deadly force against me?’” explained Mortensen. “Or if you’re going to defend someone else, is someone using deadly force against them?” 

“For example, if I’m walking out of Walmart and I see someone breaking into my car and they are driving away in my car, I can’t just shoot them,” stated Mortensen. “Because I am defending my property. You can’t defend property with deadly force. It’s defense of self or others.”

“Now, if I am in my car and someone is trying to carjack me, and they are using a weapon, then I would probably be justified in using deadly force,” he continued. “Because I can say, ‘My life was in danger.’ I’m not defending my car anymore, I am defending me.”

Mortensen said he applied these same principles of self-defense in regards to the police-involved shooting death of SA Floyd on November 1, 2023, in Spirit Lake. 

One element of the incident that was not previously known to this publication, was that the couple who called 911 and requested law enforcement’s help had a key to Floyd’s apartment. This gave the couple permission to enter and since they had no criminal intent Mortensen’s office did not charge either of them with breaking and entering prior to the arrival of the responding officers. Their access to the home gave the officers lawful permission to enter and check on Floyd.

According to Mortensen’s two six-page reports, dated February 8 and February 28, as soon as Floyd presented a deadly force situation by pointing a gun in their direction, the officers were lawful in their use of deadly force. The report from February 28 articulates why each of the 15 rounds fired by Officer James Windrem were considered lawful. These reports did not address whether actions taken by Chief Michael Morlan or Windrem prior to Floyd discharging a firearm contributed to the deadly force situation. That form of investigation is separate from the criminal investigation and is known as an administrative review which was conducted by the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office.

When asked how often DUIs result in serious bodily injury, Mortensen said their office presently has three open vehicle manslaughter charges. “It’s very common to have 2 or 3 a year that are fatal,” Mortensen said. The Kootenai Journal reported on a recent non-fatal DUI conviction that resulted in serious bodily injury. Such cases are in addition to three fatality cases per year.

To date, Mortensen has not prosecuted any gang-affiliated crimes. In southern Idaho, six men have been charged with felonies that include gang enhancements in conjunction with the murder of a 23-year-old. Mortensen said a conviction with gang enhancement would allow for an extended sentence, but stressed that there are no charges for being in a gang. An individual must first be convicted of a criminal act that was for the benefit, or at the direction, of a criminal gang. Idaho §18-8502 defines the terms of a criminal gang.

When asked how many prosecuted cases involve substance abuse, Mortensen immediately replied, “The vast majority.” He continued by explaining, “If you just look at the charges alone – possession of controlled substance, possession of paraphernalia, or DUI – that is probably half, if not more, of our cases.” 

“Of course, a lot of domestic batteries involve one, or both, of the parties being intoxicated,” added Mortensen, “A lot of the thefts are because they are trying to support a habit.” This increases the statistics of substance abuse related cases to include the “vast majority” even when the charges are not directly connected to alcohol or drugs.

When it comes to marijuana, Mortensen believes it would be helpful to re-classify the substance, which is currently listed as a Schedule 1 drug alongside narcotics like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, whereas fentanyl and cocaine are listed as Schedule 2 drugs. “I do not believe marijuana should be legal,” stated Mortensen. “However, I don’t necessarily think marijuana is scheduled appropriately … there’s a big difference between heroin and maijuana.” He went on to explain that heroin and cocaine are narcotics, but marijuana is not. He explained that when the DEA classifies a drug, it is typically balancing how much medicinal value a drug has versus how addictive it is.

“I’m not saying marijuana should be legal, but I have a hard time with marijuana being right up there with heroin,” continued Mortensen. “Philosophically speaking, it’s on God’s green earth for a reason. We use a lot of substances, like heroin, and turn it into medicine.” He said he’s read studies that show smoking marijuana is the least effective way to provide medicinal benefit, so it comes down to how to separate the psychoactive component from the medicinal benefit. “I do not think marijuana should be legalized recreationally, or even medicinally … but rescheduling it would allow for the government and the private sector to further explore the benefits it might have.”

Mortensen is pleased that the legislature recently added fentanyl to the list of drugs that can receive trafficking charges, as well as mandatory sentences, for offenders. He explained how 40,000 fentanyl pills were found on a traffic stop in Post Falls a couple months ago and they only had the ability to charge with possession or possession with attempt to deliver. “Historically speaking, we can count on at least some of our judges to give someone like that probation,” stated Mortensen. “So what trafficking does, with mandatory minimums, is it takes the discretion away from our judges to place those people on probation.” He added that the case was given to the federal government to prosecute, but after Idaho’s law goes into effect on July 1 his office will be able to charge such cases with trafficking and convictions will come with mandatory sentences.

The prosecutor’s office has an official Facebook page that has given Mortensen a platform to publicly release the sentences that local judges are handing out, along with an overview of the case, what sentence the prosecutor’s office requested, and what punishment the law allows. These press releases show just how much discretion a judge possesses, and their leniency is often shocking to those unfamiliar with the criminal justice system.