DUI Defendant's Laughing Prompts Judge to Impose Harsh Sentence

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Though it may receive special attention in the news media for its devastating effects, when it comes to procedure in the court room and judicial decision, a trial for DUI works just like any other criminal trial.

And the first rule for those defending themselves against DUI or other criminal charges, after hiring a DUI lawyer to get your case started out right, is to comply with the judge's requirements and the trial procedures with seriousness and remorse.

A woman from Tucson, Arizona, found out the hard way that your attitude toward your crime has a lot to do with how the judge or jury will look at your case, and could affect your future drastically as you are sentenced.

Melissa Arrington was charged with negligent homicide and two counts of aggravated DUI on December 1, 2006. According to the Pima County sheriff's department, she swerved off the road, hit cyclist Paul L'Ecuyer, and then continued on 800 feet before finally stopping.

A blood test taken after Arrington was in custody revealed that she had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.156, around twice the legal limit of 0.08. A witness testified that Arrington swerved off the road twice before the final swerve that killed L'Ecuyer. Further, Arrington was driving on a suspended license.

The charges Arrington faced carried a minimum sentence of four years, and her actual sentence may have looked very similar to that if it hadn't been for Arrington's attitude, or at least the judge's perception of that attitude.

During the DUI hearing, the Pima County attorney played two tapes of phone conversations that took place while Arrington was incarcerated awaiting trial. One of the tapes in particular incensed the judge, who, upon hearing Arrington's interaction with an unnamed male friend, called the conversation "breathtaking in its inhumanity."

The male friend who spoke with Arrington said that "John," another mutual friend, said Arrington "did the world a favor" because she had "taken out" a "tree hugger, a bicyclist, a Frenchman and a gay guy all in one shot." He continued on that "John" said she should get a parade and a medal for what she did.

Arrington responded to the comments with a laugh, and when her friend responded by saying that "it was a terrible thing to say," Arrington replied, "No, it's not." Later in the conversation, Arrington also said, in reference to her friend John's assessment of the situation, that "she would have to agree."

Audio of the phone call can be heard via a new report on Tucson local news channel KGUN.

The result of the phone call being played in the court room was that Judge Michael Cruikshank viewed Arrington as hardly the remorseful and repentant person that her criminal defense counsel tried to portray her as.

In addition to the tape, the county attorney demonstrated that Arrington had yet to take responsibility for her actions, as she continued to deny pertinent facts of the case. For instance, Arrington claimed to have had only three drinks, though her blood alcohol test indicated that she must have had more. Also, she claimed that she swerved mistakenly when she hit L'Ecuyer as she was reaching for hand sanitizer, which evidence also contradicted.

But the phone call was the final straw. Judge Cruikshank gave Arrington ten and a half years, just one year less than the maximum sentence for her charges.

Arrington's trial goes to show that how you behave in the court room and the remorse you show for your actions plays an important role in the judge's decision of your sentence. Arrington's laughing, coupled with her agreement to the insensitive comments, proved to the judge that despite her grave actions, and despite the pain she caused to the family of the dead cyclist, she was apparently not sorry. And she'll be thinking about that for ten and a half long years.


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