Sometimes the application of North Carolina's driving laws may not appear to achieve justice. In 2007, a woman named Robin Stanfield was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle following an accident that killed four people. The victims were trying to move a broken-down car in the Elon community when Stanfield's vehicle ran off the road, killed four people and injured a fifth.
Stanfield was convicted twice of four counts of misdemeanor death by a motor vehicle. The judge sentenced her to the maximum penalty, two 45-day suspended prison terms and five years of probation. Stanfield was also ordered to pay $2,000 each to the victims' families and surrender her license for one year. Although her conduct was deemed unintentional, her sentence appeared unfairly lenient.
Just recently, about 18 months after obtaining her license, the same woman (now known as Robin Stanfield-Ragsdale) was involved in a hit-and-run accident that seriously injured a student on a bicycle. Now Stanfield-Ragsdale faces a felony charge of leaving the scene and a probation violation charge for the prior convictions, which carries a 90-day prison sentence. Questions remain, however, as to why Stanfield-Ragsdale got off so easy on the original charges and how she was able to regain her license so quickly.
At the time of Stanfield-Ragsdale's initial offense, North Carolina law imposed no jail time for misdemeanor death by motor vehicle if the defendant had no prior record.
Changes to the Penalties in North Carolina for Misdemeanor Death by Motor Vehicle
North Carolina has now passed legislation that imposes up to 60 days in jail for those convicted of misdemeanor death by motor vehicle. The Senator who sponsored the bill explained that previously no matter how serious the misconduct leading to a death, a judge was not able to use jail time as a consequence. Now judges have more discretion.
Many are arguing for even further legislative action. Some families of victims are lobbying for mandatory toxicology reports in all crashes involving fatalities. If illegal drugs or unlawfully high levels of alcohol are found in the driver's system the offense would be upgraded to a felony.
The survivor of the 2007 accident involving Stanfield-Ragsdale is advocating for the DMV to hold hearings when drivers in these types of cases apply for license reinstatement. Family members of those killed could then testify before a determination of reinstatement is made.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a fatal or serious vehicle accident contact a skilled personal injury lawyer. An attorney can advocate on your behalf to ensure those responsible for your suffering are held accountable.