In the early morning hours of May 15, 2011, a tragic car accident claimed the lives of three young passengers and severely injured another. The accident resulted from the 20-year-old driver’s intoxication after a night of drinking, which ended when the vehicle carrying the five occupants slammed into a tree.
Following the crash, the driver immediately fled, but he was arrested hours later, still with an alcohol level twice the legal limit. The driver pleaded guilty to three counts of manslaughter and one count of leaving the scene of an accident for the crash that killed three and injured another. The young driver received a sentence of 20 years in prison.
Sentence Review Panel
While anyone facing criminal charges should discuss their case with an experienced attorney, there are still options for those who have been convicted. In Maryland, an appeal of sentencing can take place without going to an appeals court. In this case, the panel heard arguments from both sides regarding possible reduction of sentencing and ruled to reduce the original sentence. This ability to hear arguments for reduction of sentencing allows those convicted in Maryland a different avenue to appeal sentencing decisions.
The review panel, consisting of three Maryland judges, significantly reduced the original 20-year sentence. The judges believed that the original sentence was too severe and extended beyond typical sentencing guidelines for such an incident.
The panel pointed to the fact that the other passengers willingly entered the vehicle. The judges also felt that the defendant should have been given more credit for the guilty plea at the original trial. The new ruling reduced the sentence from 20 to 15 years, with seven years suspended.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration reported that Maryland had 547 traffic-related fatalities in 2009, many of which were caused by reckless drivers. Additionally, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration, 24,379 accidents were the result of distracted driving and a significant portion are attributed to cell phone use.
Fatal Accidents: Reckless Drivers Now Face Jail Time
The Washington Post reported that, under the old law, reckless drivers who caused a fatality could receive punishment as insignificant as a traffic ticket or a fine.
Imagine someone who was speeding, admits to drinking the night before, and kills a pedestrian crossing the street, and receives a punishment that is the equivalent to a parking ticket. Many victim advocates believed justice was not being served, so they voiced their opinion loudly to Maryland’s policy makers.
In response to these lobbying efforts, CBS reports that Maryland has passed legislation allowing prosecutors to bring criminal charges against reckless drivers if their actions result in the death of another. While parents and loved ones of reckless driving victims know this cannot bring back their loved ones, they are nevertheless joyful that future offenders will receive punishments that better fit their crimes.
Texting While Driving Now a Primary Offense
Maryland originally enacted texting while driving legislation several years ago. Unfortunately, this law was difficult for police to enforce because it was a secondary offense and an officer needed a separate reason (a primary offense) to pull a motorist over and ticket the driver for texting while driving.
Maryland’s legislature decided to erase this loophole in light of the car accident statistics that show the dangers of distracted driving. New legislation now make it possible for police to pull over a driver solely for texting while driving. The Washington Post details that those caught texting — unless texting the 911 emergency system — can be fined $70 and receive a point towards the suspension of their driver’s license.
While these new laws should help increase the safety of Maryland’s roads, it is obvious that not all car accidents can be prevented. Some individuals will still make the mistake of texting behind the wheel or driving irresponsibly. But victims can hold these negligent drivers accountable.
Those who have been injured in a car accident should stand up for their rights and speak with an experienced auto accident attorney immediately to discuss their options and potential legal claims.