Thursday, June 14, 2012

Drunk drivers who kill now face tougher sentences

A new law aimed at deadly drunk drivers is already taking hold.
As this Seattle Times story shows, the first test case happened the same day the law took effect.
Here’s the meat of that story:
Michelle Leigh Dittamore was charged Wednesday with vehicular homicide, accused of slamming her father's two-seat sports car — which she didn't have permission to drive — head-on into a vehicle driven by Jana Lynne Berry, 48, who was killed instantly at the scene of the June 7 late-night crash.
Dittamore's 4-year-old son, Grayson, was in the front passenger seat and suffered bruising from the seat belt and air bag, according to charging documents. His presence in the vehicle at the time of the crash is considered an enhancement that, should Dittamore be convicted, will add a year onto her prison sentence.
Dittamore had allegedly consumed one tumbler of pink Champagne and the drug Klonopin, a benzodiazepine, which is known to make users dizzy or drowsy, before the crash, charging papers say. … Dittamore, whose license was suspended in 2009, apparently sneaked into her father's bedroom and took his car keys along with his Ambien prescription, charging papers say. She didn't have permission to drive her father's Honda S2000, nor was she insured to drive, the papers say.
In March, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a bill that increased prison terms for those convicted of vehicular homicide to six to 8 1/2 years, an increase from the previous 2 ½ to almost 3 ½ years. The law went into effect on the day of the crash.
The law (House Bill 2216) was sponsored by Rep.Christopher Hurst (D-Enumclaw), chair of the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee and a retired police detective. In a press release at the time the governor signed the bill, Hurst said the law ensures justice for families and friends who lose a loved one to a drunk driver, and that he wrote the bill after witnessing immeasurable suffering and carnage around drunk driving accidents time and time again throughout his 25 year career. 
“A vehicle operated under the influence of alcohol is a deadly weapon and it’s time our sentencing guidelines reflected that fact,” Hurst said at the time. “Nothing can bring back the victims of these crimes, but I do hope this change brings some justice for the loved ones coping with an unimaginable loss.”
Before the law, the penalty for vehicular homicide wasn’t comparable to similar crimes such as manslaughter. The new law more than doubles the jail time for vehicular homicide by DUI. Those found guilty will face 78 to 102 months behind bars,equivalent to the penalty for first-degree manslaughter.
More from the release:
Prosecuting attorneys across the state have long advocated for an increase in sentences for DUI vehicular homicide; leading the charge have been King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.
"This increased penalty will feel more like justice to victim's families, friends and the community," Lindquist said. "Furthermore, this legislation is part of a larger effort to send a message that we don't tolerate drunk driving in Washington."
“With the leadership of Reps. Chris Hurst and Roger Goodman in the House and David Frockt, Adam Kline and Mike Padden in the Senate, we have given the families of loved ones lost to drunk drivers some sense of justice,” said Satterberg. “The increased sentences will not bring back their family members but will send a strong message to drunk drivers that their actions have consequences."
The full text and legislative history of House Bill 2216 can be viewed online here.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.