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January 28, 2010

Facebook enhancement for drunk driver provides notable example of social-media sentencing

This local sentencing story from the Buffalo News, which is headlined "Drunk driver gets into more trouble after posting Facebook photo," provides a new and notable example of what might be called "social-media sentencing."  Here are the details:

Ashley M. Sullivan is in Niagara County Jail, and Facebook may be to blame as much as the car crash that killed a Niagara Falls man.

Sullivan, 17, of Linden Avenue, North Tonawanda, was sentenced Wednesday afternoon to six months in the County Jail and five years' probation for crashing her car while drunk and killing her boyfriend May 30 on Sweeney Street in North Tonawanda.  She pleaded guilty Nov. 18 to criminally negligent homicide and misdemeanor driving while intoxicated.

The Buffalo News has learned that Sullivan went to Florida a month after the crash and posted a photo on her Facebook Web page captioned, "Drunk in Florida."

"I'm troubled by your conduct since the crash," County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III told Sullivan, "and that's the reason for the jail sentence."  Murphy also refused to grant Sullivan youthful offender status for the same reason.  "I don't believe the defendant has earned it," the judge said.

Murphy, in reading the terms of probation, went out of his way to emphasize to Sullivan that she isn't allowed to drink for the next five years.  "You're 17 years old. You're not old enough to drink," Murphy said.

When defense attorney Glenn Murray said in court, "This young woman is remorseful," someone laughed among a crowd of more than two dozen of the victim's friends and relatives, drawing a reprimand from the judge....

Murphy, who could have sentenced Sullivan to as long as four years in state prison, said his decision was difficult "because of the defendant's extreme youth and her past history."  He ordered that after Sullivan gets out of jail, she will be under electronic home monitoring for a year. He also revoked her driver's license.

"My client failed to consider the consequences, the tragic consequences," Murray said.  "This offender understands the tragedy she is responsible for.  She will never forgive herself."  He said Sullivan had decided not to speak, although when Murphy asked her, Sullivan managed to say, "I'm very sorry," before breaking down in tears.

It is not at all unusual, though it can sometimes be controversial, for sentencing judges to decide to increase a defendant's based on post-offense or even post-conviction conduct.  Nevertheless, the impact here of a social-media message on Facebook adds an extra layer to this common sentencing issue.  Not only does the sentencing judge here learn that the underage defendant was drinking heavily again not long after having just killed her boyfriend via drinking and driving, but he also discovers that she does not have the good sense not to brag to friends about her persistent misbehavior.  For these and other reasons, I think Sullivan should consider herself very lucky to have only gotten a six month jail term here.

January 28, 2010 at 03:42 PM | Permalink


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Nice article, using social media for killing people is totally embarrassing.

Posted by: drunk driving | Jan 29, 2010 5:21:04 AM

Alcoholism is now a disability under the Amended ADA. One wonders if any defendant has ever used it at trial or on appeal to reverse a sentence. This is an relevant question since half the murder victims and half the murderers are legally intoxicated.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 29, 2010 6:56:07 AM

She's lucky she was allowed to plead to criminally negligent homicide. I would have required a plea to reckless homicide at minimum.

It's stories like this that show the problems with sentencing in drunk driving cases. Drive intoxicated, kill your boyfriend, brag about being intoxicated shortly thereafter--and then get a whole six months in prison. This story wouldn't even have been on my radar if it weren't for this blog (thanks, Professor!).

I'd love to see a prosecutor and a judge with a pair actually take a real stand against drunk homicide. Six months is a farce, no matter what the age.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 29, 2010 11:50:56 AM

i agree. Not to mention those on their 3,4,5, or even 6th conviciton for it!

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Jan 29, 2010 1:10:34 PM

She should have received a longer sentence, at least one year. It's disgusting that she killed a person while drunk and underage, and then a month later is publicizing on a website her being drunk and underage! I understand that this may be a result of immaturity, but her posting of drunk pictures so soon after the crash speaks volumes about her current character.

Posted by: DEJ | Jan 29, 2010 2:24:56 PM

I just figured it out! Defendant lives in New York, but was in Florida partying...which means she's likely white, attractive, and comes from affluence. Therefore, the prosecutor was obligated to let her plead to something other than what she deserved--reckless homicide. I'm sure the prosecutor will be justifying his ludicrous decision next week in an editorial, arguing that prosecutorial discretion required him to do justice.

This also explains why the judge permitted her to leave the jurisdiction--again, in order to party down south--between committing homicide and being sentenced. Something tells me the judge wouldn't have allowed Jamal or Juan to go as far as Long Island, let alone Florida.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 29, 2010 4:21:02 PM

Res ipsa --

"I'd love to see a prosecutor and a judge with a pair actually take a real stand against drunk homicide."

Look no further. http://ftp.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/739/739.F2d.945.84-5045.html.

The case is more appalling than it looks. When this devil-may-care recidivist drunk crashed, he was doing ONE HUNDRED MPH in the WRONG LANE of a separated highway where the speed limit is forty-five. His handiwork that day left nine orphans.

When I was a prosecutor, I saw a lot of bad stuff, and a lot of misery and grief caused by these hoodlums, but this one came as a shock, even to me.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 29, 2010 6:25:59 PM

What??? This article is saying that she received a worse sentence because of her Facebook posting?? Is 6 months really long for taking a life? Are you kidding me? So what would the judge have done if there was no Facebook posting? Just given her probation? For taking a life? But yet less severe crimes get way longer sentences, there is no rhyme or reason to the legal system in this country and it is pathetic and makes me ashamed of this country and that judge in particular.

Posted by: Jennifer | Feb 24, 2010 5:25:47 PM

Six months is ridiculous, she should have been given the maximum sentence to begin with and considering her behaviour and the publication of that behaviour just one month after the incident, it is clear she is not remorseful and this should have amounted to an even greater sentence!

Posted by: Drink Driving Offence | Apr 29, 2010 7:39:21 AM

OMG!! Sullivan went to Florida a month after the crash and posted a photo on her Facebook Web page captioned, "Drunk in Florida." "I’m troubled by your conduct since the crash," County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III told Sullivan, "and that’s the reason for the jail sentence."

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