There are times when a double take is not enough. It requires a triple. Take the sentence handed down last Friday in Blount County Circuit Court.
Under a plea agreement reached between the prosecution and the defense, a defendant pleaded guilty to three counts of vehicular homicide by recklessness and three counts of reckless aggravated assault.
The justice system can sometimes so wrap itself in mystery as to fall stunningly short of the practical application of justice by any common definition of righteous, impartiality, fairness, correctness. This is one of those times.
The deal reached in the case of a 56-year-old Vonore man, David Austin Kirkland, who pleaded guilty in a 2017 crash that killed three people and injured three more, fits no criteria for justice delivered.
Under his plea agreement in Blount County Circuit Court, Kirkland received a total effective sentence of 10 years, with 60 days in confinement and the remaining time on probation.
Accord to the prosecution, the sentence, which contained not one cent in fines, breaks down like this: The defendant received six years on each of the reckless vehicular homicide counts to be served concurrently (together), four years on each of the reckless aggravated assault charges to be run concurrently with each other but consecutive to the reckless vehicular homicide counts. This gives a total effective sentence length of 10 years. The community service is a minimum of 50 hours per year, if and when Kirkland’s driver’s license is reinstated.
Which brings us back to common-sense definitions. “Total effective sentence?” To a layperson, that might seem reasonable considering this was a motor vehicle accident — if the total actual sentence was 10 years behind bars.
But consider the charges that were dropped to secure the deal: driving under the influence of an intoxicant, possession of a Schedule II controlled substance and three counts of vehicular homicide by intoxication.
A toxicology report evidently showed a potentially lethal level of the prescription painkiller oxycodone in the defendant’s system. The defense maintained the blood sample was improperly obtained because there was no search warrant — arguably unconstitutional based on a Supreme Court ruling.
Ultimately, the prosecution’s explanation for agreeing to the deal was a matter of honoring the request of the surviving victims and their families.
There are millions of dollars at stake in two civil suits, one settled and one not, that may or may not have been a factor in the agreement. Whatever the explanation, the outcome left some court observers more than a little perplexed.
This “total effective sentence” of 10 years means the defendant, who admitted to killing three people, was allowed to be free through Thanksgiving and be incarcerated today until Dec. 23. That will account for 30 days of the required 60 days behind bars. The remaining 30 days will be served over weekends from 6 p.m. Thursdays to 6 p.m. Sundays. That’s it.
Speculative fiction novelist Lois McMaster Bujold put it succinctly: “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them.”
This plea agreement is, reduced to a single word, stunning.