Judges' Drunken-driving Sentences Anger Madd

January 05, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Harford's Mothers Against Drunk Driving group is upset that a convicted drunk driver who killed two police officers has been allowed unsupervised probation and that a woman charged six times with drunken driving was not sentenced in five of the cases.

MADD members say they are worried the two cases mean Harford's judges have lax attitudes about the danger drunk drivers pose to the community.

"It's incredibly frustrating," Kimberly Schaffel, coordinator of the county MADD group, said of the two cases.

So far, MADD has been successful in getting the Harford State's Attorney's Office to takea look at the cases.

But Schaffel says she wants to meet with thecounty's judges to lobby them to give -- and stick by -- stiff sentences for convicted drunken drivers.

She plans to show the judges results of a recent Gallup Poll that found stiff penalties, particularly high fines, are strong deterrents to drinking and driving.

District Judge John L. Dunnigan, who handled the case involving the womancharged with six counts of driving while intoxicated, said he is willing to meet with MADD representatives.

He added, however, that hedoesn't see the point in such a meeting. "These issues have been addressed time and time again," said Dunnigan, a former prosecutor. "We are quite aware of the problem."

The cases that MADD cites are:

* An order by Harford Circuit Court Judge William O. Carr that permitted Carl D. Cates to go on unsupervised probation. Cates, a truck driver from North Carolina, was convicted of manslaughter and driving while intoxicated in 1987. He drove a tractor-trailer over two state police troopers as they sat in parked cruisers in a median on Interstate 95. Cates, 39, was sentenced in August 1987 to six years in prisonand fined $1,500.

* A decision by Dunnigan to put five of six DWIcounts filed against Mary E. Phagan of Aberdeen on the inactive docket. That means the charges will be erased from the woman's record in one year unless county prosecutors pursue them.

Phagan was chargedby Aberdeen police with DWI on Sept. 2, Sept. 14, Sept. 27, Sept. 30and Oct. 20. The most recent violation, on Nov. 28, occurred after Dunnigan had suspended Phagan's driver's license.

Aberdeen Police Chief John R. Jolley, whose department gave out about 300 drunken-driving citations in 1991, said it's unusual that any DWI case is put on the inactive docket.

But Dunnigan said it's not unusual in the case of first-time offenders.

Schaffel said she also wants to meet with Harford State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly to discuss the Phagan and Cates cases.

Cassilly said his office will file a motion to get Phagan's cases reactivated.

Prosecutors will attempt to reach a plea agreement that calls for Phagan to plead guilty to the remainingcharges without additional jail time or fines.

"All we want out of the things are the guilty pleas so her record shows six convictions," Cassilly said.

Prosecutors also will file motions asking the court to schedule a hearing to review the order giving Cates unsupervised probation, Cassilly said.

Cassilly said his office was not notified by the court or the defense attorney that a change in Cates' probation had been sought.

Before the Nov. 27 order giving Cates unsupervised probation, he had been on supervised probationfor three months. He had been in the county's work-release program during most of his prison term.

Cates, now a construction worker, lives in Baltimore County. "He wants to get on with his life," said Cates' attorney, Lester V. Jones of Bel Air. "He certainly poses no threat to anybody."

In the Phagan case, Dunnigan said he put five of the drunken-driving cases on the court's inactive docket on Dec. 19 at the request of the State's Attorney's Office.

In the sixth case, Phagan was sentenced to serve 90 days at the county Detention Center for driving under the influence, resisting arrest and malicious destruction, court records say.

She also was ordered to receive counseling and attendthe Victim Impact Panel, where victims of drunk-driving accidents tell their stories to convicted drunken drivers.

The state Parole and Probation Division recommended jail time and work release for Phagan in a Dec. 5 letter to Dunnigan.

"Considering she has been charged with six DWIs within four months, luckily without injuring anyone, this writer believes statistics are no longer in her's or society's favor," agent Diane S. Lutz said in the letter.

Many cases are put on the inactive docket when they involve first-time offenders who face numerous counts of the same charge, Dunnigan said.

"It's not like you're giving up (the charges) forever," Dunnigan said. "You can bring them back."

In Phagan's case, the 39-year-old woman needed counseling for "problems" not related to alcohol, Dunnigan said. The judge declined to reveal the problems.

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