Don Ramsell: These clever burden-shifting devices, where the defendant is ‘presumed guilty’ and where the judge must give someone jail ‘except in extraordinary circumstances’ are simply clever back doors that legislators, prosecutors, and some judges have used to create the new Star Chamber. They may all be called constitutional, but the constitution these people are talking about isn’t the one I read about in grammar school.
By Clifford Ward, Special to the Tribune
May 15, 2012
An Aurora woman convicted of killing five teens in a drunken-driving accident should get a new sentencing hearing because of vague language in Illinois DUI laws, her attorney told an Appellate Court panel Monday.
The three justices from the 2nd Appellate District in Elgin listened to almost an hour of arguments in the case of Sandra Vasquez, who is serving a 15-year sentence for the 2007 accident in Oswego. About two dozen family members and supporters of Vasquez, as well as family members of the crash victims, filled the courtroom’s small gallery to hear the arguments.
Lawyers sparred over a provision in the aggravated DUI statute that requires probation, rather than a prison sentence, in cases where “extraordinary circumstances” exist. The law, however, fails to spell out what those extraordinary circumstances may be, and it can’t be properly argued by lawyers or applied by judges at sentencing, Vasquez’s attorney said.
“Due process requires guidance,” Assistant Appellate Defender Sherry Silvern argued. “There is no guidance here.”
But Assistant Appellate Prosecutor Scott Jacobson said Judge Clint Hull, who sentenced Vasquez, took all factors into account, including those circumstances that Vasquez’s trial attorney, Kathleen Colton, had argued met the “extraordinary circumstances” threshold.
“The trial court considered everything,” Jacobson said.
The Appellate Court probably will issue its opinion sometime within the next eight weeks.
Vasquez was convicted in 2010 of aggravated DUI for the deaths of the teens, who were among nine people crammed into her car on Feb. 11, 2007.
Vasquez, 23 at the time, was going about 70 mph when she veered across a highway and hit a light pole. She had gone to a party to pick up her younger sister and accommodated other partygoers who did not have a ride.
She was sentenced under a statute that went into effect in 2006. Colton has said language in the revamped law left her wondering whether she was to argue that the facts of the case or her client’s past record were extraordinary and made Vasquez worthy of probation. Vasquez is a mother of two who worked with dementia patients.
Colton attended Monday’s session and said she didn’t walk away with any clearer interpretation of the law based on the lawyers’ arguments or judges’ questions.
For family members of the victims, Monday’s proceeding dredged up bad memories.
“I feel this was an absolute waste of time,” said Donna Dwyer, whose son, Matthew Frank, 17, was killed in the crash.
Oswego fatal crash appeal: Arguments heard in appeal over sentence – chicagotribune.com