Over four years ago, I posted this blog post entitled “Why is this woman facing 6 to 28 years in prison?” It was about a young woman named Alia Bernard, who, two days after smoking marijuana, caused a fatal motor vehicle crash. Under Illinois’ draconian “zero tolerance” laws, she was sentenced to seven years in prison for the crime of driving while there was still trace residue of marijuana in her system (and causing a fatal accident, which otherwise would have been mostly a civil matter).
Common sense (sort of) prevailed when a new judge vacated her sentence and sentenced her to probation instead (the judge that sentenced her to prison has retired). I say that common sense “sort of” prevailed because I don’t think that there is any common sense to a law that punishes having traces of marijuana in your blood instead of punishing people that are actually under the influence; but under our ridiculous laws, probation was the best sentence she could get.
In Illinois, probation can only be given in a fatal DUI case when there are extraordinary circumstances (even in a case like this, when the person was not “under the influence”). The new judge stated in re-sentencing Bernard: “The criminal act, which is the cannabis in the system, played no role in this action … the facts of this case are unique and for me, rise to the level of extraordinary circumstances.”
Congratulations to defense attorney Donald Ramsell, who took over the case and raised issues in the State Police crime lab’s blood testing that led to the new sentence.