Sandra Vasquez’s attorney is hopeful after learning the appellate court will hear oral arguments on her appeal of her prison sentence for driving drunk in the 2007 crash that killed five teens in Oswego.
“Any time you are granted an oral argument on an appeal, it’s a good sign,” defense attorney Kathleen Colton said. “It means the justices want to hear from the attorneys, rather than reading the cold file.”
A panel of three appellate justices will hear arguments—and perhaps question—appellate prosecutors and appellate public defenders on a portion of state law that demands prison time for fatal DUIs “unless the court determines that extraordinary circumstances exist and require probation.” The arguments are set for May 14 in Elgin.
Vasquez to 15 years in prison.
She was convicted of driving drunk at about 2:20 a.m. on Feb. 11, 2007, when her 2001 Infiniti i30 smashed into a utility pole on Route 31 near River Run Boulevard in Oswego, Kendall County court records show. She had nine people, including herself, in a five-seat vehicle. Five teens died; three other teens were injured.
During the trial, Colton and a defense toxicology expert argued liver damage Vasquez has suffered in the crash affected alcohol test results and that she was not impaired at the time of the accident.
Vasquez, a mother of two, faced between six and 28 years in prison because the accident involved two or more deaths. Those convicted of DUIs involving one death face between three and 14 years in prison.
In both situations, probation is only allowed if the judge finds “extraordinary circumstances exist”—but, Colton said, the statute doesn’t define “extraordinary circumstances.”
Colton argued that the sentencing law is unconstitutional because it is vague.
“Does it have to do with the defendant and her circumstances? Does it have to do with the case itself?” Colton asked.
When Colton raised the issue after Vasquez’s trial, prosecutors argued that the law wasn’t vague, but rather left discretion to the judge. Prosecutors also argued that the law was definitive enough to “give a person of ordinary intelligence fair warning as to what conduct is prohibited” and to give judges enough guidance to follow legislators’ intent, Kendall County court records show.
If the appellate judges disagree, though, their decision could have broad ramifications for those sentenced under this law, which went into effect in 2006, Colton said.
“Certainly, if they declare it unconstitutional, everyone who has been sentenced under that statute and did not get probation, would be able to go back and ask to be resentenced,” Colton said.