Tribune-Courier News Editor
Commonwealth Attorney Mark Blankenship said he would like to see another category of vehicular manslaughter added to the law.
Blankenship said that the law allows for a class A felony of murder that punishes offenders at 20 years to life, then steps down to a class C felony with a penalty of 5 to 10 years.
Juries have no penalty in between.
Blankenship said a class B felony of manslaughter would carry a penalty of 10 to 20 years with a requirement to serve 50 percent of the time before becoming parole-elligible.
“The Tiffany Pittman case is the first time since I became Commonwealth Attorney in 2008 that we’ve seen a sober person in another car killed by a drunk driver,” Blankenship said. “This is one case we wanted to take to 12 jurors.”
Blankenship said he has seen other people killed in drunk driving collisions, but they have been passengers in cars driven by drunk drivers.
He added these passengers were at parties with the drivers and were also intoxicated.
He said jurors would be less sympathetic toward these fatalities, and he has made plea agreements with the drivers in those cases.
“At the end of the day, most juries opt for manslaughter and maybe wanton endangerment,” Blankenship said. “It was time to see what a jury would do in the Pittman case.”
Blankenship said the case decided last week could set a prescident for future cases, including the trial of Cory Burkeen. Burkeen is accused of killing Landon Lovett in a Memorial Day collision.
Burkeen’s case will go before a Marshall grand jury in January.
“Right now, if jurors do not convict a defendant of murder, the next penalty is 5 to 10 years, and the defendant is eligible for parole after serving just 20 percent of the sentence,” Blankenship said.
“This means some defendants could be back on the street not long after a trial given time served. There needs to be a more just result and an option in the middle.”
In jury instructions, the court says jurors may opt for murder. The second choice is second degree manslaughter.
Blankenship said a class B felony charge would also allow prosecutors to offer plea deals with more prison time, as appropriate to the crime. Instead of a minimum of 20 years with a plea to as little as 2 years, prosecutors could offer a sentence of 5 to 10 years.
“It would give prosecutors a tool to deal with DUI with a death without forcing juries to consider the max,” Blankenship said.