What Might Come Shocking to You - Shock Probation Law Applied in Some Fatal Kentucky DUI Cases
By: Chris Kramer
Did you know that states like Texas, Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky have shock probation laws which give judges the power to decide whether offenders should be set free from their prison sentences and rather placed on probation?
In simple terms, shock is a legal theory which asserts that a person has been so traumatized by immersion in the penal system that he or she has been scared straight and will not commit the crime again.
Here's a perfect example. A person makes the mistake of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and is involved in an accident that kills a fellow driver on the road. Under shock probation laws, the convicted DUI offender could be released from a prison sentence.
In fact, shock probation has been applied to fatal DUI cases in Kentucky; however, not without the dismay of MADD and families of victims who were killed in drunk driving accidents.
An excellent WAVE 3 story recently detailed how shock law has been applied to Kentucky DUI cases like the one involving 31-year-old Vincent Rutlage and 49-year-old Matthew Scott Burton.
Both men were drag racing drunk while on their way to the Kentucky Derby back in 2002 when Rutledge hit a car in front of him. The accident caused Burton to swerve his BMW across a medium. Burton's car then hit a vehicle carrying Ricky Moskwa and a passenger; both men were killed while Burton survived.
Originally, Rutledge was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the two deaths; however, a Kentucky judge gave him shock probation just a couple of months later.
Ricky Moskwa's mother Debbie said the judge's decision to allow Rutledge out of prison based on the shock probation law was a "slap on the wrist" and made her feel as if her son's life and loss meant nothing to the court.
Examining Different Stances on Shock Probation Law
Like Moskwa, opponents of shock probation have said that such a law should not apply to felonies but is alright for misdemeanors.
Proponents of shock probation have said that such a law is important for many young defendants who have made a mistake and do not have any previous criminal history. They point to people like Andrea Kowalczyk, who killed a person while drunk driving in 1999 and later had a 10-year prison sentence dismissed by a shock probation law.
Such proponents have said that Kowalczyk is now a model citizen and also claim that opponents who have lost loved ones in drunk driving accidents would feel differently if their children had the temporary lapse in judgment and killed someone in a DUI accident.
While it is hard for them to be posed this question and then honestly answer this idea of putting themselves in someone else's shoes, opponents of shock probation have noted the case of 24-year-old Doug Miller, a former collegiate player who killed someone in a drunk driving accident, was released from prison via this law and then later arrested for DUI again.
With all this considered, Kentucky Senator Jack Westwood is currently working with MADD and Debbie Moskwa on legislation that would get rid of shock probation in fatal DUI cases. Westwood has said that he plans to pre-file the bill next month, and we'll keep you updated on any developments with this legislation on a very serious subject.