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What role does discretion play in DUI sentencing?

A recent criminal sentence illustrates the complexities on both sides of a drunk driving lawsuit.

The case involves a fatal drunk driving accident that occurred shortly after midnight near Norfolk International Airport. The driver, a 39-year-old Virginia man, crashed into a Dodge Caravan stopped at a red light. An occupant of the Caravan suffered fatal injuries. Although the driver had been drinking, police did not test his blood alcohol content until three hours after the crash, when it registered as 0.07.

The man’s result was technically below the legal limit of 0.08. However, in the ensuing criminal trial, the prosecution reportedly had an expert that would have testified at trial that the three-hour delay probably indicated a BAC level of .10 to .13 at the time of the crash. Ultimately, the man’s decision to plead guilty to driving under the influence and aggravated involuntary manslaughter rendered the issue moot.

The more protracted portion of the case centered on sentencing. The defense emphasized the man’s remorse, whereas witnesses for the prosecution testified to the promising life ahead of the 23-year-old victim, who had been a medical student at Eastern Virginia Medical School. The court sentenced the man to 11 years, five of which are suspended.

Our criminal defense law firm has represented many clients facing the aftermath of a drunk driving accident. In our experience, the regret expressed by a defendant can influence the court’s approach to sentencing, as well as a prior clean record. Even in this aspect of a DUI criminal trial, a smart legal strategy can influence a better outcome.

Source: Virginian-Pilot, “After tearful testimony, Virginia Beach man sentenced for killing former college basketball star in DUI crash,” Katherine Hafner, April 20, 2017

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