An Oklahoma cardiologist was sentenced to 17 years in prison on May 21 for striking and killing a motorcyclist while under the influence of alcohol. The sentencing hearing was scheduled after a jury found the Oklahoma City resident guilty of leaving the scene of an accident, manslaughter in the first degree and aggravated driving while under the influence on March 2. The judge also ordered the man to pay fines totaling $21,500. Court records reveal that the man’s blood alcohol concentration was about three times the legal limit at the time of the accident.
The fatal drunk driving accident took place on Interstate 35 in October 2018. Police determined that the man’s Mercedes sedan struck a motorcycle from behind in torrential rain. The man’s attorneys argued that their client could not have seen the motorcyclist because of his black clothing and the poor weather conditions. The jury was not convinced by this argument and recommended a sentence of 15 years on the first-degree manslaughter charge.
The sentencing judge accepted the jury’s recommendation. This decision may have been influenced by the man’s long record of drunk driving and public intoxication. His previous offenses were not mentioned during his trial. The man originally faced a murder charge, but prosecutors gave the jury another option by adding a manslaughter count on the last day of the trial. The man’s attorneys say the evidence does not support either a murder or manslaughter conviction.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys may encourage their clients to consider accepting a negotiated plea agreement rather than proceeding to trial when the evidence against them is overwhelming and the facts of the case are likely to inflame a jury. Attorneys could make this recommendation vigorously in DUI cases when their clients have previous convictions that would likely lead to a harsher sentence.