On November 11, 2012, David A. Smith was riding his motorcycle on Tonawanda Creek Road in Amherst. He veered off the road and into a group of pedestrians on a bike path. The accident killed two women, Jocelyn B. Elberson, 25, and Sheila Pelton, 81, and injured Foster Pelton, 79. Smith was initially charged with DWI and criminally negligent homicide, but pled guilty to felony first-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree vehicular assault, and misdemeanor DWI. He was sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison. Jocelyn Elberson’s parents began pushing for legislation that instituted harsher penalties in certain DWI cases. This legislation, known as Jocelyn’s Law, would increase sentencing for those who cause the death of others in DWI accidents and have a serial history of operating motor vehicles under the influence. Read on to find out more about the law, what effects it may have on you if it’s passed, and how an attorney can help.
The history of Jocelyn’s Law
Although David Smith was initially charged with DWI and criminally negligent homicide in 2012, he pled guilty to felony first-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree vehicular assault, and misdemeanor DWI in January of 2013. Smith was then sentenced to a 4 to 12 year prison sentence, which is less than the maximum of 5 to 15 years. According to WKBW, this sentencing inspired the parents of Jocelyn Elberson to begin their push for legislation that has harsher penalties for repeat DWI offenders who cause the death of others in DWI accidents. The push for this legislation is based in part on Smith’s prior history. A recent press release by New York State Senator Patrick M. Gallivan states that Smith had 6 prior DWI arrests in 3 different states: 4 in New York, 1 in Florida, and 1 in Ohio. The Buffalo News reports that he pled guilty to felony DWI in 2000 in North Tonawanda and that he was convicted of DWI in a 1997 Grand Island incident. Smith was also convicted of DWI in Ohio. When Smith was first charged, Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita made a statement saying, “If a defendant’s prior [convictions] are more than 10 years old, it would be unlawful to charge [that person] with felony DWI.”
A push for harsher penalties
Currently in New York State, one previous DWI conviction raises the charge of second-degree vehicular manslaughter to first-degree vehicular manslaughter, but there is no increase in sentencing for those who have a further history of DWI. Jocelyn’s Law aims to increase the crime of vehicular manslaughter to the crime of aggravated vehicular homicide for anybody who has 3 or more prior DWI convictions. This would increase the punishment from a maximum of 15 years in prison to 25 years. The bill has passed the State Senate 3 years in a row, but has never made it past the Assembly. It is sitting before the Assembly now and their decision has not been made yet.
This DWI blog will be a continued resource for changes to New York State DWI law. To stay updated with Jocelyn’s Law and other important information, please check back regularly.
This article does not purport to give legal advice and is for informational purposes only.