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When Does Drunk Diving Become Homicide?

In Northern Kentucky there is a difference between normal DUI, which may be aggravated if it involves serious physical injury or death, and reckless homicide, manslaughter and murder.  While a DUI accident which results in death is probably most appropriate for a reckless homicide charge, the prosecutor has broad discretion in what type of charges to bring and that decision is based on a number of factors. As posted in the Northern Kentucky Enquirer today: COVINGTON -- A 29-year-old Northern Kentucky man learned his punishment on Tuesday for a fatal hit-and-run accident that killed a grandfather who was changing his tire on the side of an interstate. Michael Benjamin Smith was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison by Judge Martin Sheehan. He had previously pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and first-degree wanton endangerment in addition to drunken driving for killing 66-year-old White Oak resident Peter Minor. "The conduct after the crime is troubling," Sheehan said while explaining his decision. The judge then rattled off Smith's actions after the fatal crash: He drove after his mother warned him not to get behind the wheel. He didn't stop to render aid when he hit the stranded motorist. He lied about driving and then tried to make up an alibi. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney James T. Redwine had asked for the maximum 10 years. He said this wasn't a case of someone having one too many drinks to drive legally. "This was driving to the extent that he can't remember - driving while blacked out," Redwine said in reference to Smith's claims he doesn't remember the details of the crash. Smith's attorney, Scott Croswell, was hoping for a sentence of no more than five years. He had asked the judge to split the punishment between prison time and probation. Croswell said his client has shown genuine remorse. He said since the crash, Smith has acknowledged a serious alcohol addiction, began training to speak to students about the dangers of drinking and driving and tried to commit suicide - twice. The victim's wife, Jennie Minor, had also wanted the maximum sentence. "He shattered our dreams of growing old together," she said while fighting back tears. "I miss him every minute of every day. My life will never be the same." Peter Minor's son, Shannon Minor, said no amount of time behind bars is enough for what Smith did. He gets to come home eventually," Shannon Minor said. "My dad never gets to come home. What am I supposed to tell my children? My 3-year-old keeps telling me grandfather is going to come back." In Northern Kentucky the first decision on how to charge the case belongs to the officer.  Often, however, the prosecutor will overrule that decision in bringing either more serious felony charges of homicide or less serious charges on only the DUI.  This decision of whether to bring the charges is vested in the County Attorney and with the Commonwealth Attorney of the County of arrest.  A variety of factors influence that decision, including: public perception and outrage, media attention, victim family impact, prior conduct of the defendant, actions before, during and after of the defendant AND, most importantly, the ability of the prosecution to prove their case to a jury. Involvement of an attorney for the defendant from the earliest possible time is often the key to negotiating a favorable resolution.  If the attorney can avoid media coverage, the likelihood of a lesser charge is increased.   Once the case reaches the media, the pressure on the prosecution for justice is intense.  A skilled attorney can assist in negotiating a plea agreement that is acceptable to the defendant as well as allows the prosecutor to appease the victim as well as the public. If you have been arrested and charged with DUI, reckless driving, reckless homicide, manslaughter or any other crime, contact a criminal defense attorney who has handled numerous cases.  In Northern Kentucky, contact Michael Bouldin for a consultation regarding your case by calling 859-581-6453 or email to mwbouldin@fuse.net.

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