A Georgia woman was recently sentenced to 25 years in prison for a deadly crash that killed a University of Georgia student and injured two others last year, the Athens Banner-Herald reports.
According to the Banner-Herald, the accident occurred when Whitney Baker Howard swerved across the center line and ran into a group of bicyclists. The crash killed a 25-year-old UGA graduate student and seriously injured another bicyclist.
Drug tests subsequently revealed the presence of methadone and several different prescription drugs usually used to treat depression and anxiety in Howard's system. Howard had previously been charged with driving under the influence (DUI) on two other occasions, and she had her two-year-old daughter in the car at the time of the accident.
Howard was found guilty of first-degree vehicular homicide, multiple charges of inflicting serious injury with a vehicle, driving under the influence of drugs, endangering a child while driving under the influence of drugs, and other charges. She was sentenced to a total of 31 years in prison for these crimes, 6 of which will be served on probation after her 25-year prison term is completed.
What Makes a Georgia DUI Sentence More Severe?
Even a first-time DUI conviction can have serious consequences. A first-time conviction for driving under the influence can include jail time of up to one year, license suspension for up to one year, as well as fines, fees, and mandatory community service.
Howard's 31-year sentence is a reminder that there are many factors that contribute to increased sentences for DUI in Georgia, including:
- Getting a second or third DUI within a certain period of time.
- Driving under the influence of drugs, including prescription drugs that were taken legally.
- Causing a serious accident, injury or death while driving under the influence. The most extreme version of this is homicide by vehicle, which can be punished by up to 15 years in prison.
- If you have a child under 14 years of age in the car when you are arrested and charged with a DUI, you may also be charged with child endangerment.
Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs in Georgia
The evidence that Howard was driving with a combination of prescription drugs in her system was one factor that influenced the length of her sentence.
While the accident that occurred when Howard crossed the center line was tragic (and Howard had a history of failed attempts at drug rehabilitation), it does raise questions about driving and prescription drugs: If you have taken a drug legally, at what point does it "impair" your ability to drive? The answer, unfortunately, is no one really knows.
In an alcohol DUI case, the state of Georgia has set a level at or above which a driver is considered "impaired": having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher.
There is no comparable level or standard for impairment due to prescription or over-the-counter drugs. People have been arrested for DUI-drugs after taking the physician-recommended amount of prescription drugs. People have even been arrested for driving after taking over-the-counter cold, cough, or allergy medication.
The good news is, with no standard for what constitutes "impairment" due to prescription drugs, a skilled DUI-drugs defense attorney may be able to successfully get DUI-drugs charges reduced or eliminated. If you have been arrested for a prescription drug DUI, contact a Cherokee County DUI Lawyer today.