August 15, 2011

Birmingham Police Officer Sentenced To 12 Years for DUI Death

The Birmingham News recently reported that a former police officer was sent to prison for 12 years after a 2009 drunk driving accident that killed a music minister driving home from church.

This story highlights not only the tragedy involved in a DUI manslaughter case in Birmingham , but also the severe penalties that come with the charge. That's why consulting with an experienced and aggressive Birmingham DUI Lawyer is such a critical first step.
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The 37-year-old officer was convicted in March of reckless manslaughter in the killing of the 35-year-old victim, who was thrown from his convertible car and hit the pavement after the officer allegedly hit him going up to 120 mph on Interstate 20/59 near the Arkadelphia Road exit. Investigators said the officer's blood alcohol level was between .14 and .17, which are both above the state's .08 legal limit.

The victim's family was seeking the maximum 20-year prison sentence, while a judge went with a 12-year prison term. The newspaper reported that emotions ran high on both sides of the courtroom during the sentencing.

"I'm sorry for the decisions I made," the officer told the victim's widow. "If I could just relive that day I would and I would make better choices. I ask God to fill the void in your life."

But the widow said the case boiled down to choices made that night. The victim was at their church's Wednesday night service, while the officer was drinking whiskey and going to a strip club.

"There are consequences for choices," she told the judge. "This wasn't an accident. It was a crime. It's a consequence of the way he was acting that night. It's his choices we're paying for. In this society, we punish this behavior with time in jail."

Under Alabama Code 13A-6-3, manslaughter is a Class B felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison. Manslaughter is recklessly causing the death of another person.

This is different than murder because murder is an intentional act, either through premeditation or by committing another felony. Offenses in which a person drives drunk and kills someone -- even a passenger -- are typically filed as manslaughter.

But even in these types of cases, there are avenues to a strong defense. All aspects of the investigation can be challenged, from officers' observations, to who actually caused the crash to whether blood samples, breath tests and field sobriety tests were accurately administered.

Because of the seriousness of the charge, an experienced Birmingham DUI Defense Attorney will seek experts, scene recreation specialists and others to aid in the defense of the client. Much to the disbelief of the public sometimes, people arrested and charged with a crime aren't always guilty.

It is up to the state to prove -- beyond all reasonable doubt -- that the defendant committed the crime. And it is the job of the defense to scrutinize all evidence in order to hold the state to that very high burden of proof. Challenging contradictory witness statements, whether the officers had probable cause to administer DUI-related tests and if there is enough evidence to warrant a conviction are all elements of a strong defense.

More Blog Entries:

15-Month-Old Dies in Franklin County DUI Manslaughter Wreck: July 24, 2011

Birmingham Drunk Driving Defense News: Motorist Charged with DUI; Vehicular Homicide in U.S. Marine’s Death: April 15, 2010

Additional Resources:

Fatal off-duty wreck nets 12-year prison term for former Birmingham police officer, by Eric Velasco, The Birmingham News