The families of two friends who were killed in a car accident by a drunken, off-duty police officer say a potential 10-year sentence by way of a plea agreement is too lenient.
Joaquin Garcia and Fabian Torres lost their lives when last spring when their car collided with a vehicle piloted by officer Terrell Garrett, who was driving the wrong way down Lake Shore Drive. Garrett had been out celebrating his 35th birthday until 4 a.m. before getting behind the wheel. A blood test revealed that Garrett was operating his vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.184, more than double the legal limit.
Garcia’s brother said it’s inconceivable that someone whose job it is to serve and protect can make such a poor decision.
“Your brother was killed by a person who was supposed to uphold the law, gets drunk and drives on the opposite side of the highway,” he said. “What is that? Are you kidding me?”
Garrett is expected to be in court Friday to accept a plea deal that would see him spend the next 10 years behind bars if the judge agrees, but the families of the deceased said five years a piece for their loved ones is not enough. Relatives have written dozens of letters to the judge asking him to impose a harsher sentence, and some family members are expected to speak at Friday’s hearing.
Garrett is eligible to be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years in prison under the current sentencing guidelines.
Brett Appelman comments
A 10-year sentence for killing someone during a DUI is actually a fairly strong sentence in Illinois. I have personally seen cases of Reckless Homicide based on a DUI where the defendant did not go to prison at all. But making a plea deal is not an exact science for either side.
When making a plea deal the prosecutors have to weigh the evidence and their chances of winning at trial, versus their chances of losing and having the defendant walk scot-free. Defense attorneys make the same types of calculations; can they win the case at trial, or should they try to make a plea deal that will result in an easier sentence than their client would get if they lost at trial.
When the evidence is very close, when both sides think they can possibly win at trial, the negotiating can get very tough. Neither party will give up much, but both want to make the deal happen. In this case there seems to be overwhelming evidence that the police officer was guilty of the DUI. He likely would have lost at trial. But, the prosecutor had no guarantee of what sentence the defendant would have received after a trial. The defendant was facing a potential 6- to 60-year sentence. A judge could have given this police officer much less time than he is getting through the plea deal. Both sides agreed upon ten years; the defendant did so to prevent a much longer sentence, and the prosecutor did so to guarantee a harsher sentence than the minimum would have allowed.
The victims and their families sometimes get angry at plea deals, but without them the legal system would grind to a standstill. The courts simply do not have the time for every case to go to trial. Plea deals move cases through the system much faster and with less expense than trials do.
Related source: Chicago Tribune