Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

HAVERHILL’S HISTORIC TEXTING HOMICIDE ENDS WITH CONTROVERSIAL SENTENCE

Yesterday afternoon through this morning, you may have heard my comments regarding the verdict in the Haverhill motor vehicle homicide case on WBZ, radio 1030 on your am dial.

Now that the smoke has cleared in that particular tragedy, people are debating whether or not the verdicts send a message that will be heeded.

It is important to note that the statute at issue, in terms of the prohibition against texting, has differing commandments to the populous, depending on age. If you are under the age of 18, then you may not use your cell phone, or any other like device while you are driving. Period. If you are over 18, you simply cannot text while driving.

Aaron Deveau (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) was 17 years old when he had his car accident which inflicted what turned out to be fatal injuries to one person and nonfatal yet serious injuries to another. Under the statute, he was simply not allowed to use the phone for any reason while driving.

Of course, at trial, he testified and explained that it was not phone use at all but concern over his studies which distracted him enough to cause the accident.

The prosecutors, however used phone records to argue that the Defendant was texting just before the accident.

The jury went with the prosecution’s version.

District Court Judge Stephen Abany gave a sentence to the Defendant which included an immediate jail sentence of a year in jail. The judge stated that his primary concern was that it be a deterrent to others.

Specifically, the Defendant was sentenced to concurrent (served at the same time) sentences of 2 1/2 years for the homicide and 2 years for the texting charge, but suspended all but a year, citing the Defendant’s youth and lack of a criminal record.

The sentencing, and its reasoning, has met with mixed reviews…from several sides.

One young man is quoted as explaining that, “If you’re just going to make an example out of somebody, that’s just something scummy the government is doing,…He definitely deserves to be punished for what he did, but not as an example to others. Think of the guilt that kid has.”

On the other side of the coin of public opinion, folks think that the Defendant was not given enough of a punishment. Some folks think that one year in jail is not enough punishment when you take a human life. He is convicted, after all, of a homicide.

Still others are worrying about what the Defendant is going to do when he gets out of involuntary Commonwealth housing. Accompanying the sentence is a 15-year suspension of his driver’s license.

“What is he going to do for 15 years?” decries a freshman at Haverhill High School. A sophomore explained that “It was a stupid thing to do.” He also opined that the problem is that many teenagers suffer from feeling invincible.

He could not be more right…although I wonder if sometimes that pre-disposition is really limited to the young.

Attorney Sam’s Take On Sentencing The Non-Criminal

I know, I know. A criminal is someone who has been convicted of a crime. So, the Defendant is, in the eyes of the law, technically a criminal.

Now let’s get back to reality.

This is a kid who screwed up. He screwed up like most of his peers do as well as many older folk. He never thought this would happen to him and it did.

His luck ran out. Period.

At sentencing, the judge is supposed to come up with a fair punishment considering the interests of society as well as the realities of the defendant before him. I would think this was a tough one.

The statute under which the Defendant was found guilty of homicide is very limited. Even to me, a Boston criminal lawyer who no one in their right mind would call particularly harsh when it comes to criminal justice (unless it is unleashed against the prosecution) finds it odd. The maximum the court could sentence the Defendant to was two and a half years for the homicide. The other charge, texting while driving, carried an additional two years in jail.

Clearly, there would be people who would say, “Great! Give him four and a half years!” This could be done by giving the Defendant two consecutive maximum sentences. But there are some problems with this.

What are these problems?

Read on in my next blog…most of which seem to be happening quite late this week. In connection with this reality, there will be an announcement about the blog in my last posting this week.

For the original story upon which this blog is based please go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2012/06/07/stiff_sentence_in_fatal_texting_while_driving_case_may_not_deter_some_teenagers/

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