Learning to Communicate With Victims in Vehicular Homicide and Serious Injury By Vehicle Cases
Nothing – and I mean NOTHING – is more harmful in sentencing than the presentation to a judge that the Defendant has failed to communicate with victims in vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle cases. It literally sucks the air out out of the room when the victim or their representative tells the judge that “all they wanted was to hear from the Defendant.” Whether it is true or whether it would have made any positive difference in the victim’s view of the Defendant, it is unquestionably true that the failure of the Defendant to communicate with the victims in vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle cases absolutely affects judges.
All too frequently, DUI lawyers that get retained on vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle cases get too wrapped in the substantive defense of the case to begin communicating with the victim. Like it or not, the vast majority of these cases, however, end up in plea bargains. One of the most frequent questions that I am asked (by lawyers and clients alike) is what the range of sentences are for a DUI vehicular homicide charge in Georgia. There is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. However, the one factor that dominates this discussion is the hurt and anger of the victims, and we, as criminal defense lawyers, must learn to communicate more effectively with victims. The “restorative justice” theory offers a viable means of engaging in this much-needed dialogue.
Restorative justice offers alternatives to our traditional notions of the way in which the criminal justice system works. Rather than focusing on punishment, restorative justice seeks to repair the harm done. At its best, through face-to-face dialogue, restorative justice results in consensus-based plans that meet victim-identified needs. This can take many forms, most notably conferencing models, victim-offender dialogue, and circle processes. In applications with youth, it can prevent both contact with the juvenile justice system and school expulsions and suspensions. Restorative justice also holds the potential for victims and their families to have a direct voice in determining just outcomes.
I dislike lawyers that simply enter guilty pleas as much as anyone; however, it is a reality of our system, particularly here in Georgia, that there is a very real difference in the amount of time that a person may serve on a vehicle homicide charge as a result of negotiated pre-trial plea, as opposed to the amount of time that may be served upon conviction after trial. If you don’t believe me, just take a brief look at the Georgia Board of Pardon and Parole’s parole eligibility grid.
I have ascribed to the philosophy that if I work hard on my cases and develop as strong of a defense as possible, I will obtain the best possible result for my client. The problem is that this model, so to speak, does not consider the influence that the victim may have on the defense strategy. Particularly in vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle cases, the input of victims is a vital consideration in the ultimate resolution of the case.
If you have a question regarding a vehicular homicide or serious injury by vehicle case in Georgia, please feel free to contact Ben Sessions of The Sessions Law Firm at (470) 225-7710.
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