Vehicular Homicide Sentencing Downgrades (Part 3)

by | Jun 8, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Appellate Division continued: At the resentencing, defendant presented evidence regarding her rehabilitative success, and the impact the crime had on her life. She divorced shortly after her release from prison, experienced difficulty with her children, whom she visited regularly, and struggled to support herself. Defendant submitted a report from her children’s psychologist stating that further incarceration of their mother would have “devastating effects that would be profound and long-lasting.”

During the State’s presentation, Seeman and his son, Ford Seeman (Ford), urged the judge to impose a sentence that fit the crimes and that did not place excessive and unwarranted weight on the alleged harm to defendant’s children. We quote from Ford’s statement:

A three-year sentence was imposed for the obliteration of my family’s life; the same exact term given for a mere assault by auto charge against my father, as if the two crimes were interchangeable.

. . . My brother witnessed the tragedy, further compounding it, and watched as my mother took her last breath.

Seeman also spoke in equally moving terms of the destruction wrought on his family. He added, among other things, that the sentence did not send any message to the public that drunk drivers should be stopped.

The State requested the judge find aggravating factor one because the offense circumstances went far beyond reckless driving and causing death, the two elements of vehicular homicide. We conclude the judge abused his discretion in failing to find that factor.

Immediately before she killed Helene and injured Seeman, defendant rear-ended another motorist. That person realized defendant was drunk and attempted to stop her from driving. Defendant left the scene of that accident, and before colliding with the Seemans’ vehicle, passed cars in a no-pass zone, knocked over a mailbox, ran a red light, and tailgated other drivers.

This opinion highlights two disturbing aspects of modern sentencing. One is the injection of pure emotion into the proceeding when a judge is supposed to be objective. The second is the consideration of alleged facts that were never proven beyond a reasonable doubt or admitted to by the defendant.