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Felony charges dropped in sensitive Colorado DUI fatality case

The public -- not a jury -- is often the first to issue a judgment on whether a Boulder criminal defendant is guilty. Emotional responses can overlook facts. Those responses, however popular, may not exceed the boundaries of the law.

The district attorney in Colorado's 14th Judicial District recently wrote about a sensitive DUI case. The prosecutor explained why he chose to drop felony vehicular homicide and vehicular assault charges against a man who was driving while intoxicated. The defendant's truck hit a family crossing U.S. Highway 34 in July 2013, killing the father and seriously injuring the man's spouse and two children.

The defendant also was charged with misdemeanor DUI and child abuse, for drinking and driving while transporting his own children. Accident investigators learned the truck driver's blood alcohol content level was more than twice the legal limit, but there was more to the story. The family, dressed in dark clothing, stepped onto the highway at night in a poorly-lit area.

Colorado State Patrol reported the truck driver was less than 60 feet from pedestrians, when the family walked onto the road. The driver was traveling about 10 mph under the 50 mph speed limit. Authorities determined the driver did not behave carelessly, despite intoxication, and would not have been able to stop even if he were sober.

Plea deals can reflect a prosecutor's uncertainty of defendant guilt. A plea deal was arranged to dismiss the felony charges against the truck driver, provided the defendant satisfactorily completed probation. The agreement was rejected by the court, which meant the prosecutor had to push forward with the charges or dismiss them – he dropped them.

Certain criminal allegations create a strong emotional reaction within society, particularly when children are harmed. Attorneys on both sides of a criminal case are bound by the provisions of a law, whether or not those provisions conflict with public sentiment.

Source: Sky-Hi News, "Guest Column: D.A. explains reason for dropping felony counts in 4th of July Ackerman case" Brett D. Barkey, Jul. 09, 2014

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