Illinois residents may recall media reports in December 2014 about a fatal drunken driving accident involving a female Episcopal bishop who struck a cyclist. The woman resigned from her position within the church in May 2015, and she was sentenced to a prison term of seven years by a Baltimore judge Oct. 22. The sentencing hearing came after the woman had entered guilty pleas to charges of manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident and drunken driving.
Prosecutors claimed that the woman was driving with a blood alcohol level of nearly three times that of the legal limit and using a mobile phone when she struck a 41-year-old cyclist in Baltimore Dec. 27, 2014. They added that the woman then left the scene before returning 30 minutes later. The force of the impact propelled the cyclist onto the hood of the woman’s car. The man died of severe head injuries after striking the windshield.
During the sentencing hearing, the woman accepted responsibility for her actions and apologized to the members of the cyclist’s family who attended. The judge suspended all but seven years of the 20-year sentence he handed down. Prosecutors had asked the judge to send the woman to prison for 10 years.
Criminal defense attorneys may suggest that their clients enter into a negotiated plea agreement when the evidence against them is compelling and the possible sanctions are severe. During plea discussions, defense attorneys may bring mitigating factors, such as their clients’ prior good behavior and genuine remorse, to the attention of prosecutors. However, attorneys may also seek to have drunken driving charges dismissed by challenging the reliability of toxicology test results or questioning the behavior of the law enforcement officers involved.