Monday, September 24, 2018

Contrary to Report, DA Sees 'No Legal Basis' to Appeal Kitchen Sentence

Posted By on Mon, Sep 24, 2018 at 1:54 PM

click to enlarge Marci Kitchen - HCSO
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  • Marci Kitchen
Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming has no plans to challenge the eight-year prison sentence that Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Kaleb Cockrum handed down to Marci Kitchen last week for the 2016 DUI crash that killed two teenage girls, including Kitchen's own daughter.

In the last few days, you may have read a piece wildly opining about how the court and prosecutors "absolutely got it wrong" in determining Kitchen’s prison sentence and suggesting the district attorney’s office has grounds to appeal Kitchen’s sentence. The argument is wrong.

“We are not considering filing a sentencing appeal,” Fleming wrote in an email to the Journal. “We don’t have a legal basis for filing one.”

The erroneous legal theory — which was penned by local attorney Allan Dollison and posted, apparently without any vetting or fact checking,  by a local blog, from where it has been shared on social media — posited that Cockrum’s sentence failed to impose a sentence on Kitchen that accounted for both victims in the case — Kiya Kitchen and Faith Tsarnas, both 14. But Dollison’s take on the case, which he was uninvolved in, is incorrect.

When sentencing Kitchen, Cockrum imposed a two-year sentence for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence, a one-year enhancement for the existence of an additional victim and a five-year enhancement for fleeing the scene of a fatal crash, for a total term of eight years. While none of the time Kitchen serves in prison will be related to the second count of vehicular manslaughter to which she pleaded guilty — the sentence imposed by Cockrum does account for both victims.

And if Cockrum had instead opted to sentence both counts of vehicular manslaughter, it would have resulted in a prison term that was four months shorter than the one imposed, due to state sentencing law that requires subsequent counts to be sentenced at one-third of the midterm sentence in California's determinant sentencing triad.

According to Fleming, prosecutors did a lot of research in order to charge the case in a way that resulted in maximum exposure for Kitchen.

“I might note that the California penal and vehicle codes do include considerably complexity that can create many charging alternatives,” she wrote the Journal. “We have substantial in-house expertise to address this complexity. Also, we do not hesitate to consult state-level experts when they might identify alternatives that would further promote justice. In the Kitchen case, we consulted with someone who has handled hundreds of vehicular manslaughter cases and taught classes on that topic.”

Cockrum could have imposed a harsher sentence on Kitchen by giving her the aggravated term for the principle vehicular manslaughter charge, which would have added two years to her prison sentence. However, doing so would have given Kitchen the option of taking back her guilty pleas and proceeding to trial in the case. Cockrum also mentioned at Kitchen's sentencing that he felt she showed remorse for her crimes, which, coupled with the fact that she had no criminal record prior to her arrest in this case, likely played a part in his imposing the midterm sentence.

A Journal email to Dollison pointing out the mistake in his argument went unreturned. Meanwhile, the local blogger’s post presenting Dollison’s take without challenge remains. 
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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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