West Virginia is known for strict criminal laws and punishments for those convicted of a crime. DUI laws, in particular, leave little opportunity for the accused to protect their rights in court. Now, prosecutors are asking for harsher penalties for homicide which could affect DUIs that result in a fatality. Keep reading to find out more.
A Petition for Victims
Prosecutors representing Harrison County, Lewis County, and Monongalia County are petitioning lawmakers to make sentencing guidelines for homicide equal to other states with harsher penalties.
Monongalia County Prosecuting Attorney Perri DeChristopher said, “It’s such a difficult subject because no sentence is ever long enough for the families of the victims left behind.” DeChristopher and others are frustrated with the inadequacies in the justice system when it comes to taking a life.
West Virginians, especially those who have gone through the loss of a loved one, feel that the people responsible for their death are not punished in a way that befits the crime. In many cases, the victim’s families believe that the sentencing guidelines for homicide are not a deterrent or even a consideration which means bad actors and potential criminals feel no fear when committing a crime.
According to the petition from state prosecutors, there has only been a few murder cases where the verdict was based on “no mercy.” This means that instead of the mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years behind bars, those found guilty of murder would be sentenced to prison for the remainder of their natural life.
The prosecutors and families of the victims believe that 15 years for first-degree murder is not enough to punish premeditated murder or ensure that justice is served. A Clarksburg attorney, Tom Dyer, says that in his experience, defendants found guilty of drug crimes often face harsher penalties for their actions than those who commit homicide.
In general, victims’ families and prosecutors believe that WV has relatively low sentences for murder and homicide convictions compared to other states. These groups do not necessarily want the death penalty; they want a more appropriate punishment.
Harsher Penalties and DUIs
Because of the nature of DUIs, a fatality is not considered a murder that requires forethought. Instead these cases fall under the manslaughter category, which means the driver was negligent and caused the death of another person as a result. In general, DUI manslaughter is punishable by at least five years in prison and thousands in fines.
If the law were to alter sentencing guidelines and make them more severe, the sentence for DUI manslaughter could also change. Manslaughter is under the homicide umbrella, so increasing the penalties could easily carry over.
Harsher penalties combined with an already strict DUI penalty system could make drunk or drugged driving cases more challenging. Those accused of DUI manslaughter could also face a lifetime in prison or destroy their future if found guilty in court.
Increasing penalties for homicide would not happen in a vacuum, and many people could be negatively affected by the change. Victims deserve justice, but the system is hardly fool-proof when it comes to DUIs. Equipment and sobriety testing procedures are faulty at best and leave many people vulnerable to the firm hand of the law.
So far, the state has not increased sentences for homicide cases, and many people oppose altering sentencing guidelines. For now, the debate is happening on a more theoretical and procedural level, but if more lawmakers jump on board with the idea, WV constituents could be at risk for unfair sentencing.
If you have been accused of a DUI or DUI manslaughter in West Virginia, contact The Wagner Law Firm.