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Nicholas Chappelle

Other No-Crime Exonerations
Nicholas Chappelle was one of approximately 90 people in Oregon whose convictions for driving with a suspended license were vacated after officials learned that glitches in the state’s record-keeping allowed these suspensions to remain on the books after their expiration.

Chappelle was stopped for having expired registration tags by a St. Helens police officer on January 30, 2022. When the officer ran Chappelle’s license through the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the records showed that his driving privileges had been suspended, based on a 2016 conviction for third-degree assault with a car.

Chappelle pled guilty to the suspension charge in Columbia County Circuit Court on February 3, 2022, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

In 2023, the Oregonian newspaper ran a series of articles detailing the DMV’s problems with accurately logging suspended licenses. The problems stemmed from the DMV using a placeholder date for suspended licenses, either 12/31/9999 or 00/00/0000.

The placeholder was needed because under Oregon law, license suspensions don’t take effect until a person completes a prison or jail sentence. Under the state’s system, defendants were required to contact the DMV and submit a form signed by a jail or prison official to activate the suspension and set its expiration date. That frequently didn’t happen. In some instances, defendants forgot to follow through. In other instances, they never received the proper forms.

According to the Oregonian, district attorneys knew of the problems with the DMV’s system and had begun working with the agency in the summer of 2022 to develop a remedy.

The district attorney’s office and Chappelle’s attorney filed a joint motion to vacate Chappelle’s conviction and dismiss his charge on January 11, 2023. A judge granted the motion on January 13, 2023, and Chappelle was released from prison. Chappelle then filed a claim for compensation from the state of Oregon.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 12/13/2023
Last Updated: 6/20/2024
Most Serious Crime:Other Nonviolent Felony
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2022
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No