LINCOLNTON, N.C. -- Former York County Coroner Doug McKown pleaded guilty Wednesday to an open container violation in North Carolina, but it's unclear how that admission will impact his probation in South Carolina, if at all.
A more serious charge of drinking while driving was dismissed.
State probation officials said any lawbreaking can be considered a probation violation, but that doesn't always mean an arrest, let alone prison time.
"It depends on how serious it is," said Tommy Evans, legal counsel for the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. "If you commit a violent crime or a felony, that's an automatic violation. But something like a misdemeanor is up to the discretion of an agent."
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Local probation agent Margarette Parrish said no decision has been made about whether to pursue a violation case against McKown, and nothing will happen until the final disposition of the North Carolina charges.
Although McKown pleaded guilty, his case there isn't over.
That's because McKown's attorney, Julia Mimms of Charlotte, asked Judge Dean Black to grant McKown what is known in North Carolina as a "prayer for judgment," a move that essentially allows someone to admit wrongdoing without being punished for that offense unless he or she gets in trouble in that community again.
Black said he would consider the measure and either approve it by Jan. 8 or deal with the matter that day in court.
McKown, who turns 40 Sunday, was charged with two alcohol-related violations July 17 after a Lincoln County, N.C., sheriff's deputy stopped the county-owned SUV he was driving.
Authorities found three open bottles of Coors Light beer in the vehicle.
In court Wednesday, Mimms told the judge that McKown admits that his passenger, a friend, was drinking beer in the vehicle that night.
She said he resigned from the coroner's post because of the open container charge and wanted to take responsibility for his actions.
But she noted that he's serving a year's probation in South Carolina and a guilty plea could impact his case here.
In May, McKown was convicted of unlawfully possessing a half-pill of Viagra. At the same time, he was acquitted of felony cocaine charges.
Because McKown had been a public figure and because of "small-town politics," Mimms said, some people in York County were upset about McKown's acquittal.
So if he pleads guilty, she told the judge, South Carolina officials would pursue a probation violation case against him.
And if that happens, a judge could force him to serve the rest of his sentence in prison.
Mimms also said McKown had already served 30 days of house arrest for violating his probation after he received the open container charge. She argued that he's already been punished back home even though the North Carolina case hadn't gone to court.
After court, Mimms said that if Black allows McKown to admit guilt in North Carolina without being punished for his infraction, she hopes that will help her client avoid further legal problems at home.
"It could possibly help," she said. "We're still kind of in limbo because that whole plea is still open."