account should be a cautionary tale to the likes of Lindsay Lohan and anyone else still using and still driving:
Thirty years in prison is not an excessive punishment for a Breaux Bridge woman who, during a days-long cocaine binge in 2007, plowed her Jeep Cherokee into a family of four, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled this week.
Marilyn LeBlanc eventually pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide for the collision on Highway 274 that killed Genevieve Hardy, who was riding in the backseat with her 22-year-old daughter that evening on the way to a family reunion in Lafayette Parish.
Share Michael Hardy, 55, Kyle Hardy, 25, and Christi Hardy, 22, survived the crash. Kyle and Michael later testified that a witness said that LeBlanc was smiling after she hit their Toyota Camry and took off, 'smiling like it was a game.'
The plea bargain, however, didn't include a sentence and the local judge gave her the maximum term of 30 years, saying that the self-professed drug addict posed an extreme risk of getting behind the wheel again while impaired.
LeBlanc, 37 at the time, kept driving after the crash, even after striking a parked car at a store at the intersection and vaulting across Highway 90 into a ditch before leading police on a chase.
At first, the glossy red-eyed mother of two told police that an unknown black man had kidnapped her at a local store, beat her up and forced her to drive while he grabbed the steering wheel, causing her to crash several times. But by trial time, LeBlanc said that her reckless driving was due to being upset at having just had a fight with her cocaine dealer. LeBlanc tested positive for eight drugs, which included prescription pills for pain, anxiety and depression, along with marijuana and cocaine - both of which were found inside her Jeep. LeBlanc also said that she was married to a drug addict and that her own addiction began in 2000 after she suffered injuries in a car accident.
The Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal last year rejected the 30-year sentence handed down by District Judge Durwood Conque as excessive for LeBlanc, a first-time offender, but didn't offer an alternative number of years.
On Wednesday, a unanimous state Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling, saying that LeBlanc has an opportunity for release after serving ten years, or one-third, of her prison term. She also remains eligible for early release on 'good time' credits after 15 years. LeBlanc's sentence, the justices said, 'will require her to serve a substantial term of imprisonment at hard labor commensurate with the seriousness of her crime which resulted in the death of another human being.'
The trial judge refused to consider LeBlanc's drug addiction as mitigation for a lesser prison term, and his decision was legally sound, the justices said. 'Her long-standing abuse of legal and illegal drugs had been punctuated by only a few, half-hearted attempted to receive treatment,' the state Supreme Court said. LeBlanc went to treatment twice, but always resumed drug use after detox, the court said. Prison will allow LeBlanc an opportunity for rehabilitation, the Supreme Court ruled, just as Judge Conque did in 2008.
Vehicular homicide carries five to 30 years in prison upon conviction. Louisiana has steadily increased punishment for the crime over the years, raising the maximum sentence to 15 years in 1989 and then up to 20 a decade later. In 2006, the Legislature upped the mandatory prison term from two to five years, two years after raising the maximum term to 30 years.
'The changes reflect the growing awareness in this state and elsewhere of the carnage caused by intoxicated driver on the open road,' the justices wrote."
This last week a regular member of the Alcoholic Anonymous fellowship where I attend meetings climbed a ladder and placed his neck in a perfectly calibrated noose and hanged himself. As I write I have just attended services for him. Addiction is about a physical compulsion and mental obsession. For the recovering alcoholic and drug addict it is truly about life and death. With this decision the Justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court may have just saved a life or two--very harsh, but in my opinion very appropriate.