Friend pleads guilty to 4 counts of drunk driving causing death: do you write a reference letter?

I checked, “Yes, I’d write a letter, so the court has full information.”

I write recommendation or reference letters a couple of times a year. I always strive to be rigorously honest. I don’t write things I don’t believe or don’t know to be true. If that means it’s a short or non-gushing letter, so be it. If it has my signature on it, I want to be able to unreservedly stand by it.

In this particular case, I would probably praise my friend’s good points while acknowledging the terrible things he had done in this case. I would not beg for mercy; that’s up to him.

The law, apparently, has dictated that he serve between 8 and 12 years. It doesn’t say “x years,” it says “between x and y years.” Where his sentence ends up in that relatively narrow range is, by law, determined by other factors such as the kind of life he has lived and what we can expect from him in the future. If the sentencing judge thinks he’s likely to be a dangerous menace upon release, he can go to the top of the range. If he thinks 8 years is enough to teach the young man a lesson, he go to the bottom. Letters from friends and relatives, along wtih reports from t he probation department (or whatever they call it in Canada) can give the judge a fuller picture of the defendant, pro and con.

Oh please.

I’d tell the court WHAT I knew and saw. The purpose of my letter would not be to either plead for mercy or suggesting that the book gets thrown at them.

The purpose of letter is to give the court the facts as I know them. They can use that to inform their decision.

Oh please yourself. I don’t mind hearing and responding to your opinion, but your tone is irritating the hell out of me.

I think that would be my reaction as well. Even if he says he didn’t feel drunk, he does say he had three or four drinks on the flight from Florida. That should be enough that you don’t get behind the wheel.

These types of letters are quite common in the sentencing process in Canada, and based on the posts from Ultra Vires, Procrustus and Elendil’s Heir, it sounds like they’re part of the sentencing process in the US as well.

Sentencing is not a mathematical process. It’s not that the judge plugs five factors into a calculator and out pops the sentence. Aside from cases where there is a mandatory minimum set out in the statute, there is normally a range of possible sentences. The judge’s function is to take into account not just the offence, but the offender. What is an appropriate sentence for this offence, committed by this offender? The accused’s personal history is a big part of sentencing.

As mentioned in post 26, defence is seeking an 8 year sentence, while the Crown is seeking between 10 and 12 years.

Where are you getting the 2.5 years average for drunk driving causing death?

While I am not a throw away the key kinda guy when it comes to DUI deaths (though depending on the totallity of the circumstance I can be)…I gotta say a measley couple of years is IMO going a bit too far in the other direction.

They are, particularly for well-heeled and/or first-time offenders. However, to be clear, I have never written such a letter in a criminal case.

When I represented indigent criminal defendants, I would frequently request letters from friends, employers, and family to use at sentencing. I think it’s common, not just for the better off.

That is my understanding as well, that they are fairly common for poor accused, not just rich ones. Does that affect the position of posters who object on the basis that such letters only benefit a rich guy?

I’ve hesitated to make any comments to this thread. I knew the Muzzo family once upon a time. Not Marco, but members of his family. They did not in any way espouse the values that result in “affluenza”. They are charitable and law-abiding and significant contributors to the community. I’m sure they are entirely devastated for the Neville-Lake family and horrified by the actions that led up to this tragedy. The tragedy includes poor judgment on the part of Marco who had a promising future.

It’s true that in some ways they are conspicuously well off, but they’ve worked hard for the money and it’s grown over generations. It is, afterall, the purpose of capitalism for individuals to have the opportunity to become wealthy. They shouldn’t be held to any different standard because they’ve achieved the goal. It would be difficult (and silly) to not show their wealth in choice of home, cars, etc. They’ve been able to afford the best and that would include legal representation.

Marco made some very bad decisions that day. If he drove from the airport to where the accident occurred and still blew that high, then he was amazingly lucky to have avoided an earlier collision. He was likely paying less attention as he got to the more rural area of his home. No doubt he has to pay for breaking the law and paying the consequences of his actions.

I would write the letter if asked. My letter would only speak to what I knew of his character, I would never lie. If that aided the judge in determining whether there is more value to society in having him kept away from the community or returned to it - then I’ve done my part.

What if instead of killing a family, he was cited for misdemeanor DUI, or alternatively, made it home okay and told you he made a mistake? Would you still have the *exact *same lesser opinion of him?

I think that is the issue that most of us struggle with. I’ll bet that the number of posters in this thread who have never in their entire lives driven with a BAC above .08 are in the minority.

Do we lock up the offenders for life? These are not intentional killings; they are a result of gross negligence.

We don’t have misdemeanour DUI in Canada. It is always a criminal offence, carrying a criminal record. And yes, if he drove drunk but by the grace of God got home safely, it would still change my opinion of him.

The sentence isn’t life in any event; he’s looking at between 8 to 12 years, by the sounds of it.

I don’t think writing a letter says anything about condoning drunk driving or the outcome of his decision. What is it, just something attesting to what you know about the guy? I don’t see any harm in that.

I would say “maybe.” I’d be more likely if it were a close friend without a lot of other support. If it’s the guy with 92 letters, I’d figure he has enough friends willing to do it already. I think if someone asked me for such a thing, it would be someone who doesn’t even know 92 people.

FWIW, I believe in leniency in general. So if my letter did reduce the sentence (which I doubt) I don’t think I’d feel bad about it. Though in general I would be a little troubled if this guy would get leniency simply for knowing a lot of people and/or having connections to the “right” people. However being a good or decent person is supposed to be measured, I don’t think that’s it.

Maybe we are confusing terms, but it is a criminal offense in the US as well, it is just that a simple DUI where nobody is hurt carries a penalty of less than one year in jail (not prison) which is generally the dividing line between felonies and misdemeanors. In my state 1st and 2nd offense DUI are misdemeanors, but the 3rd offense is a felony with a 1 to 3 year prison sentence.

What type of punishment does an individual in Canada typically receive for 1st offense DUI when there is no traffic accident or any bodily injury?

In six years as a prosecutor in NE Ohio, I never saw such letters introduced at sentencing except in cases involving well-off defendants. Otherwise, the only laypeople who would actually come to court and speak up at sentencing were immediate family members of the defendant.

I guess there is regional variation.

Criminal defense lawyer in WV. I use them all of the time. When I can get them, that is. Even if the guy’s mother will write a nice note, I will use it. Some might think it would carry no weight because, hey, who’s mother wouldn’t write a nice note? You would be surprised…

What else would the point of such a letter be?

The facts are (I assume) not in question: He drank. He drove. He murdered 4 people.

A letter from the family priest saying “he’s never done this before and never would again” serves no purpose whatsoever except to maybe make the judge give him 20 years instead of 30, or whatever - in other words, leniency.

No, I wouldn’t write the letter.

Well, there are other kinds of leniency, like minimum security over maximum, letting him have certain privileges. I suppose I could see writing a letter like that-- “Yes, he deserves the full 10 years, but he’ll be safe in minimum security, blah, blah.”

Ah, that is similar to our system. Thanks for the clarification.

In Canada, it’s not that the offences themselves are classified as one or the other. The definitions of the offences are the same and the offences are neither misdemeanour nor felony.

Rather, for several drunk driving offences the Crown has the option to proceed summarily or by indictment. When the Crown proceeds by indictment, the sentences are higher.

(I was confused because I’ve heard that the US and Canadian border rules for convictions for drunk driving are different. For entry by Americans to Canada, any conviction for drunk driving is grounds for denial of entry by the Canadian border officials, because it’s a criminal offence, full stop. But going the other way, a Canadian seeking entry into the US with a drunk driving offence will only be excluded if the US border officials consider the Canadian conviction equivalent to a felony. If they consider it a misdemeanour, they will admit the Canadian.)

Wiki has a nice accessible summary here: Impaired Driving in Canada - Sentencing: