Judge denies request from Carly Rousso to get prison credit for her time in in-patient treatment pending trial

From a story by Jim Newton of the Lake County News-Sun:

Carly Rousso, sentenced to serve a maximum of five years in prison for running over and killing 5-year-old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento in 2012, will not receive prison credit for time spent in psychiatric facilities while out on bond.

Defense Attorney Jed Stone had filed a motion asking that his Highland Park client receive 99 days of credit for time spent in psychiatric and drug treatment facilities prior to her highly-publicized trial.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and I can’t remember a time when a defendant was not given [prison] credit for time served in a psychiatric hospital,” Stone argued Wednesday morning before Judge James Booras.

Stone presented letters from two hospitals stating that the areas Rousso stayed in were locked down so patients could not leave. He also shared a sworn statement from Rousso, who is currently in prison serving her sentence, that she was not allowed to leave the Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, where she spent more than 80 days.

But Booras agreed with prosecutors who maintained Rousso should not be given prison credit for voluntary treatment activities while out on bond. Assistant State’s Attorney Stella Veytsel also noted that one of the reasons Rousso entered treatment was that she had used an intoxicating inhalant while out on bond, an incident that was not reported to the court.

“She was not in custody that was ordered by the court,” Booras said in denying the credit motion.

Stone said after the ruling that he would file notice by Friday to appeal her entire case to the state appellate court.

Carly Rousso sentenced to 5 years for “huffing” DUI fatality

roussocourthouseBreaking news from Lake County:

From the Chicago Tribune (story by Dan Hinkel and Susan Berger):

Highland Park woman was sentenced to five years in prison for running over and killing a 5-year-old girl after abusing inhalants.

Carly Rousso, 20, remained calm as she was sentenced to 5 years in prison for reckless homicide and 4 years in prison for aggravated DUI. The sentences are to be served together. She stands to serve about 3 ½ years for time off for good behavior.

Outside the courtroom, Rousso’s mother, Gabrielle Rousso, hugged supporters, wept and repeatedly said of her daughter, “She is so scared.”

Through an interpreter, Tomas Santos de Jesus, father of 5-year-old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, said he is unhappy with what he saw as a light sentence.

“Her life was taken away in a horrible way,” the interpreter said. ..

Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Rousso to eight years in prison, while defense attorneys requested probation or, failing that, the minimum prison sentence…

On Wednesday morning, prosecutors and defense lawyers worked to present two distinct narratives for Judge Booras’ consideration.

Prosecutors spoke of a heartbroken family and a young victim cut down unexpectedly. Rousso’s lawyers presented their client as a troubled young woman who made a horrific mistake after using substances to numb her own traumas.

Before a courtroom packed with media and supporters of both the defendant and the victim, Assistant State’s Attorney Stella Veytsel read statements written by Jaclyn’s parents, who sat silent near the front. Her mother asked in her statement for the longest prison sentence possible…

“Seeing my daughter killed in front of me is something I cannot put into words,” the girl’s mother, Modesta Sacramento Jimenez, said in the statement.

“It has left a painful void in my life,” she said.

Sacramento Jimenez said she didn’t expect to ever forgive Rousso; she hopes God will, she said.

Called to the stand by defense lawyers, Rousso’s father, David, wept as he described his daughter as a loving person who has matured in the last two years.

“She’s an extraordinarily wonderful human being who made a terrible mistake,” he said…

Public sentiments in the high-profile case have been colored by race and class, with the defendant coming from a prosperous family and the victim from a Hispanic family of modest income. Rousso’s lawyers have noted she is adopted and her biological mother is Mexican-American.

Rousso’s sentencing hearing was unusual in that the defense called multiple therapists who confirmed what her lawyers have contended – that Rousso suffered childhood miseries, the effects of which lingered even after years of professional help arranged by her parents. They said Rousso’s traumas included her adoption, rejection by her peers, bullying, her rape as a teenager by an acquaintance and a pit bull attack that disfigured her face and left her with some 400 stitches…

After the pit bull attack disfigured her face, David Rousso said, kids made fun of her appearance.

One of her therapists, Heather Keith, said Rousso was hospitalized multiple times after the crash out of concern for her safety. She reported feeling suicidal, Keith said. Prosecutors asked questions that elicited answers noting that Rousso continued using alcohol and inhalants while she was free on bond after the crash.

Rousso’s past diagnoses have included major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which therapists said were linked to her traumatic childhood. Keith said it is common for people suffering PTSD to use intoxicants to try to escape their pain.

I am not very comfortable second-guessing sentencing.  But typically a case like this would result in a sentence closer to the range that the prosecutors were seeking than the probation sentence Rousso’s attorneys were seeking, or even the five year sentence that she received.  This is not a typical case, however, in that the defendant is a young woman with no background and with issues of her own (which she has worked on and not tried to use an excuse, merely an explanation for her conduct).  That much was obvious when the judge did not take her into custody immediately after finding her guilty.  That he let her remain on bond had me thinking that he was seriously considering probation.

Clearly, Rousso’s attorneys helped her cause tremendously by presenting evidence of her depression and treatment, as well as her remorse for her actions.  I am speculating, but I also suppose that her attorneys counseled her to make serious changes in her life and helped orchestrate sympathetic press events like the one I posted a few weeks ago where she spoke to young people about how her attempts to escape her problems by inhaling cleaning fluids lead to a young girl’s death.

Five years is a comparatively light sentence for what she did.  But it is still a very significant sentence, especially for a 20 year old who has never been in prison before.  I hope that Jaclyn’s family will find some peace, and I hope that Carly is able to use this experience to transform herself into something better.

Carly Rousso speaks about drugs and fatal crash

Carly Rousso looks at a portrait of 5-year-old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento while speaking to a youth group. (Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune)

Carly Rousso looks at a portrait of 5-year-old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento while speaking to a youth group. (Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune)

This weekend will mark the two year anniversary of the fatal DUI “huffing” incident that took the life of five year old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento.

I am going to link to a Chicago Tribune story that has a video of Carly Rousso speaking to teenagers about her history of drug abuse, the fatal crash, and her thoughts of suicide in the immediate aftermath of that crash.  I am unable to embed it here, but I strongly urge that you click over to it and watch it.  It is only a few minutes.

Reading the tea leaves: Probation for Carly Rousso?

Today, Carly Rousso’s sentencing hearing was continued until September 17th.

More interesting to me was that Judge Booras once again refused to revoke Rousso’s bond, despite what has been described as a “heated discussion” by prosecutor Michael Ori.

As I have written before, the statute governing DUIs causing death requires a prison sentence unless the court finds that there are exceptional circumstances compelling a sentence of probation.

The fact that Judge Booras has been inclined to allow Rousso to remain on bond pending sentencing is a strong inclination that he is strongly considering probation.  Otherwise, if he was anticipating sentencing her to years in prison, he might as well lock her up now to avoid any possibility that she commit another offense in the interim.

Again, this is only conjecture.  We shall know definitively in September.

Lake County Judge denies Carly Rousso’s post-trial motion

Lake County Judge Booras denied Carly Rousso’s post-trial motion today.  The motion sought to overturn her convictions for aggravated DUI and reckless homicide on the grounds that the cleaning chemical that she was “huffing” before the fatal crash was not covered by the Illinois DUI statute.

The case will now proceed to sentencing.  Rousso faces up to fourteen years in prison for the crash.

Carly Rousso’s attorney will seek probation for his client. Will she get it?

According to news reports, Carly Rousso’s attorney will seek probation for his client.

Under Illinois law, a person who is found guilty of an aggravated DUI resulting in the death of one person shall receive anywhere from three to fourteen years “unless the court determines that extraordinary circumstances exist and require probation” 625 ILCS 5/11-501(d)(2)(G).

What “extraordinary circumstances” would require probation?  The statute does not give us an answer, and the few court opinions dealing with the issue have not helped to clarify.  If anything, the courts indicate that the wording of the statute was designed to indicate that while prison is the legislature’s the preferred outcome in a DUI causing a death, it wanted to give judges the discretion to be lenient when the interests of justice so demanded.  See, People v. Winningham and People v. Vasquez.  A good hypothetical example might be when the drunk driver was seriously injured as a result of the collision, or the victim was a close relation or the victim’s family was in favor of probation.

Obviously, Douglas Zeit, Rousso’s attorney, was hoping to avoid having to deal with this issue when he tried in vain to have his client plead guilty to reckless homicide in return for the State’s Attorney agreeing to dismiss the aggravated DUI charge.  When that didn’t happen, Rousso still plead guilty to reckless homicide, which is probationable, but went to trial on the aggravated DUI case.  The defense hinged on the issue of whether the cleaning fumes that Ms. Rousso was “huffing” prior to the fatal accident was a substance that was a substance that was covered by Illinois’ DUI statutes.  Although they lost on this issue, Judge Booras indicated that he felt that it was quite possible that there might be a different result on appeal.

Will Mr. Zeit be able to convice Judge Booras that Rousso’s case involves extraordinary circumstances sufficient to support probation?  I would assume that Mr. Zeit will argue that Rousso’s lack of any other arrest, her youth, her subsequent substance abuse treatment, her successful period of a year and a half of pre-trial services (which almost certainly has required weekly urinalysis), her regret for this incident and the settlement of victim’s family’s wrongful death claim are all “extra-ordinary circumstances.”  Possibly Mr. Zeit will also argue that the law was vague about the “huffing” chemicals, and that the conviction may be overturned on appeal.

Personally, I feel that these factors are not extra-ordinary enough to result in probation, even if they are mitigating factors that may help Rousso get a sentence closer to three years as opposed to fourteen.  My best guess is a sentence somewhere in the range of four to seven years, although I would not be surprised if she received as much as ten years.

However, Judge Booras’ decision to allow Rousso to remain on bond pending sentencing, along with his comments indicating that he felt that Zeit had made a strong argument as to whether the huffing chemicals fell under the DUI statute, make me wonder whether the Judge is leaning towards probation.

That is the way it is with legal proceedings.  Even experienced litigators can only make an educated guess about what will happen in court. That is why so many cases are resolved through a settlement or plea negotiation — so that the parties can avoid the uncertainty that occurs when you are waiting for a judge or jury to decide.

Carly Rousso found guilty of Aggravated DUI

Carly Rousso, the young woman who was charged with aggravated DUI and reckless homicide for allegedly “huffing” canisters of cleaning products, getting high and driving into a family, killing 5 year old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento, was found guilty of aggravated DUI today after a bench trial.  She had plead guilty to the allegations of reckless driving on Tuesday.

The case was continued for post-trial motions and sentencing.  In the interim, a pre-sentencing report will be prepared for the judge to help in sentencing.  Rousso remains free on bond pending sentencing.  She faces a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

Carly Rousso’s Attorney indicates a plea is in the works

When I last checked in with Carly Rousso’s case, (the “Highland Park huffing case” that lead to the death of five year old Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento) her attorney Douglas Zeit had argued that the law stating that a person can found guilty of a DUI for inhaling “various substances” to be unconstitutionally vague.

Judge Booras has not made a decision on this motion yet.  Today, he postponed his ruling until March 14th.

However, today Mr. Zeit made news by announcing that his client is ready to plead guilty to reckless homicide, a class 3 felony, if the prosecution would dismiss DUI causing death, a Class 2 felony.  The class two felony has a range of sentence between two and five years (or probation), whereas the DUI charge has a range of three to 14 years, and probation is not allowed barring extraordinary circumstances.

The prosecutor handling the case, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Ori, did not respond to Mr. Zeit’s offer.  However, Mr. Zeit’s statements indicate that his client will plead guilty assuming that Judge Booras does not find the statute unconstitutional.

Judge to consider Constitutional arguments in Highland Park “huffing” case

The judge in the case of Carly Rousso, accused of “huffing” fumes before a fatal accident, is now considering arguments that the DUI statute is unconstitutionally vague.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Lawyers debated the intoxicating effects of various substances this morning during a hearing for Carly Rousso, the Highland Park woman charged with “huffing” a computer cleaning product before the vehicle she was driving struck and killed a 5-year-old girl.

Prosecutor Michael Ori said that he had coffee this morning, but didn’t seek to intoxicate himself. Lake County Circuit Court Judge James Booras noted that he drinks coffee to become more alert.

The discussion followed a motion by defense attorney Douglas Zeit questioning the constitutionality of the aggravated DUI charges against Rousso. The cleaning product police say she inhaled contains difluoroethane, which is not spelled out as an intoxicating substance in the law.

“This statute is implicitly vague,” Zeit said. “No person of ordinary intelligence could understand the catchall phrase used in the statute.”

Ori said it is meant to be interpreted in the context of driving under the influence, and that it would not be possible to list every substance that induces a high.

Judge Booras said that, theoretically, one could be charged for ingesting “thin air.”

“The substance the defendant ingested impaired her,” Ori said. “She intended to impair herself … the defense is trying to gain leverage where there is no leverage to be had.”

“These are profound constitutional issues,” said Booras, who did not rule this morning, asking the defense and prosecution time to file briefs on the issue.


I will update as soon as the judge makes his ruling.


Should you enter treatment while your DUI case is still pending?

Recently, on the avvo.com website, someone who has been charged with a fourth DUI asked whether he should enter treatment now, or wait until after he has been sentenced.  My simple response was “Do the treatment now — it is not guaranteed to help, but it might. Plus, it might help turn around your life.”

Not coincidentally came the news that two recent high profile Lake County defendants, both of whom were involved in fatal crashes, have entered into treatment — Carly Rousso (the Highland Park teen who allegedly was “huffing” shortly before crashing and killing a 5 year old) and Jeremy Betancourt (the Antioch teen who is alleged to have been drag racing prior to a fatal crash).

There are many reasons why a person should enter treatment while their case is still pending — particularly when their history suggests alcohol or drug dependency.

By entering treatment, the person is showing the court that he or she is attempting to do something about his or her problem, instead of continuing to be the problem.  Why should a judge be lenient to someone who remains in denial about an alcohol or drug problem, and remains a high risk to repeat the offense?

In addition, life skills are more important than a court case.  I have lost clients and a family member to alcohol and drugs.  Treatment might have saved them, but they were unwilling.  Often, it takes the threat of jail to get someone to enter treatment.

Treatment is not necessary for alcoholics.  Some people are in a lesser category called “alcohol and drug abuse” and have a very unhealthy concept of what is a reasonable use.  Treatment can be very helpful in recognizing these problems and providing tools to quit or drink responsibly in the future.

But for alcoholics or drug addicts, treatment is a necessary first step in the road to recovery.  Alcohol or drug addiction is permanent.  It does not go away, even if a person becomes abstinent.  It just remains in remission. Treatment can be helpful in batting away defense mechanisms that prevent a person from honestly assessing the extent of his or her problem.

So yes, if someone is facing a serious charge, or has multiple arrests or otherwise has shown signs of reckless drinking or drug use, I strongly recommend getting into treatment sooner rather than later.