A couple of years ago, under the Chuck Rosenthal Administration, a specialized "team" was created that was specifically designed to assist in the investigation of automobile fatality cases -- those involving alcohol and otherwise. The group of prosecutors, under the leadership of Warren Diepraam, was called the Vehicular Assault Team (or VAT) for short. (NOTE: Personally, I found the alternative of Fatality Accident Review Team to be more appropriate only because of the acronym it created, but my idea never "officially" caught on).
Prosecutors would be sent out to make the scene of auto fatalities to advise and assist the police officers as they were investigating the case. Although it may seem like an automobile fatality case would be a relatively simple one to investigate, nothing could be further from the truth. The assistance of prosecutors was something that could definitely be used in the drafting of warrants and making charging decisions at the scene.
The team soon generated a little bit of controversy when the investigation of non-alcohol related fatalities were resulting in the filing of criminal charges (usually felonies). The most high profile of these being the case of a school bus driver who was charged with a manslaughter charge after accidentally running over a young student in a cross-walk. The bus driver was ultimately acquitted by a jury, but the outrage amongst the Defense Bar over charges being filed in the first place was very vocal.
The Defense Bar argued that not every accident that results in a fatality needs to be filed on as a felony criminal charge.
I couldn't agree more. Not every accident does.
But some accidents are caused by such negligent or reckless behavior that they do actually deserve charges being filed and a jury to decide what happens.
The trick becomes determining the fine line between tragedies and criminal acts.
Within the past two or three weeks, there have been some interesting developments within the VAT Team that make me wonder just who is making the judgment calls on that line.
Take for instance, the case of Jeri Montgomery, the 24-year-old lady who was convicted last month of criminally negligent homicide for causing a fatality while talking on her cell phone, and subsequently sentenced to 30 days in jail as a condition of her probation. We all know that talking on the cell phone (or God forbid texting) while driving is dangerous. But it isn't illegal (yet) and it doesn't make a driver Charles Manson.
However, a jury found the evidence presented by prosecutor Brent Mayr to be compelling enough to return a guilty verdict. A few days later, your friend and mine Pat Lykos was not just standing by the verdict, but doing a little name-calling on the side. According to Patsy, Miss Montgomery wasn't just a crook, but a "selfish and narcissistic" one at that. (NOTE: By the way Pat, isn't that a little "Pot calling Kettle" with the name-calling?)
Now, compare the Montgomery case to the case of Sergio Jiminez Gonzalez that this article is describing. Here Pat Lykos' gang didn't just dismiss any old case -- they dismissed a case where the Defendant had already pled guilty. For those of you who don't deal with criminal law, we aren't talking about a pending case where the prosecutors decide they can't prove it and then dismiss it. We are talking about a completely finished case where a defendant has accepted responsibility and admitted to the criminal charges leveled against him. By pleading guilty, the right to appeal is typically waived.
But here, the Lykos Administration resurrected the case just long enough to dismiss it, which astounds me.
While Miss Montgomery's talking on the cell phone got her a conviction and some nasty names from the D.A.'s Office, apparently the fact Mr. Gonzalez killed not one, but two people (who were leaving church) while speeding in a tow truck, and had cocaine metabolite in his system was somehow less egregious.
In the meantime, the Lykos Administration has been having Special Crimes Bureau Chief Joni Vollman go through the pending cases of vehicular fatalities and there has been some dismissing of cases going on. I'm not necessarily criticizing this, but I am pretty curious to know the criteria for who gets the dismissal form and who gets called "selfish and narcissistic". There seems to be a sudden and drastic lack of consistency going on, if you ask me.
The Defense Bar is applauding the new move towards dismissing these cases, but at some point you have to ask yourself if you have self-admitted anarchist Mark Bennett applauding the D.A.'s Office for the job they are doing isn't that a little concerning? I mean, seriously, when was the last time we saw my friend Mark applauding the D.A.'s Office for a nice Life sentence? Just kidding, Mark.
It doesn't make much sense. Or does it?
Lykos is well-known for seeking out publicity and loves nothing more than adoration from the media. With the current backlash against those drivers talking and texting on cell phones, perhaps she felt that she could play that to her advantage.
Or then again, maybe at her age, the new technology of cell phones just scares her.