A Stearns County jury recently found a 44-year-old man guilty of two counts of criminal vehicular homicide. Prosecutors wanted a prison sentence that exceeds the amount of time recommended by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines. The sentencing guidelines apply to felony level offenses, including felony drunk driving and CVH offenses, and were created with the intent to promote fairness in sentencing.
The U.S. Supreme Court and Minnesota courts require that for prosecutors to seek more prison time than those recommended under the state guidelines, prosecutors must present evidence of aggravating factors to the jury to support the upward departure from the presumptive sentence under the state sentencing guidelines.
The allegations of aggravating factors must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, just like the elements of the underlying crime. In the recent Stearns County drunk driving criminal vehicular homicide trial, the jury found that the state had proven several aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt.
At sentencing Wednesday in the Stearns County CVH case, the judge imposed the maximum sentence allowable under Minnesota law, a sentence longer than what the sentencing guidelines recommend.
The judge reportedly ordered the defendant to serve a 10-year prison sentence, based upon the jury verdict of guilt and its finding that the state had proven several aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt.
The original charges arose from a 2009 car accident. A 19-year-old man was killed when an SUV reportedly slammed into his Corolla. Law enforcement found two men in the ditch and believe they both were in the SUV.
On the night of the wreck, one of the men reportedly told investigators that he had been driving at the time of the accident. Authorities did not obtain a blood sample, or other form of implied consent alcohol test, from the other man who was recently convicted of the alleged drunk driving-related fatal accident.
The man who originally said that he was driving later changed his story, and denied that he had been driving. He claimed that police had coerced his confession of driving on the night of the wreck. Law enforcement took DNA samples from the airbag on the vehicle and claimed that the 44-year-old man, who was ultimately charged with CVH, was the actual driver.
Investigators reportedly pieced together bartender statements and statements of the man who originally admitted to driving the vehicle to build a felony drunk driving case against the 44-year-old man. After trial, the jury returned the guilty verdicts.
- St. Cloud Times, “Drunken driver in crash sentenced to 10 years,” David Unze, May 16, 2012
- The Bellingham Herald, “DNA evidence helps prosecutors get maximum 10-year sentence against driver in deadly DUI case,” Paul Walsh and Curt Brown–Minneapolis StarTribune, May 16, 2012