Less than a month after a state appellate court upheld Sandra Vasquez’s prison sentence, her attorney has decided to take the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Attorney Kathleen Colton plans to file a 19-page petition to the state’s top court Friday, asking for a review of the Aurora woman’s 15-year prison sentence.
During the early morning hours of Feb. 11, 2007, Vasquez was driving a car filled with eight teenagers when it veered off the road on Route 31 in Oswego and hit a utility pole. Five teens died in the crash: Matthew Frank, 17; Katherine Merkel, 14; Tiffany Urso, 16; Jessica Nutoni, 15; and James McGee, 14. Vasquez was convicted of aggravated drunken driving and reckless homicide. Kendall County Judge Clint Hull sentenced Vasquez to 15 years. She has to serve at least 85 percent of that sentence.
First in Kendall County court and then again at the appellate court, defense attorneys argued that Vasquez should get probation under the state’s “extraordinary circumstances” provision. Defendants in reckless homicide cases can receive probation if a judge finds extraordinary circumstances. But whether those circumstances apply to the person, the crime or both — and what merits “extraordinary” — has been the crux of Colton’s post-conviction arguments.
Colton pointed out Vasquez has two young children, virtually no criminal history and was trying to help the eight teens — many who were drunk or high — get home from a party. But without a clear definition for extraordinary circumstances, Colton says it is impossible to make a strong case.
On June 6, the 2nd District Appellate Court in Elgin upheld Vasquez’s sentence.
“Extraordinary circumstances are, quite simply, those that are not ordinary,” Judge Ann Jorgensen wrote in the decision. “The phrase is
sufficiently clear so that persons of common intelligence are not required to guess at its meaning.”
Colton said the extraordinary circumstances provision places the burden of proof on defendants without any guidelines. The sentencing becomes a crapshoot based on which judge handles sentencing, Colton said.
“There has to be some definitions that we know how to deal with,” Colton said.
Colton said she talked to Vasquez before filing the 19-page petition. Colton calls the Supreme Court appeal the “longest of long shots” because of the small number of cases the Supreme Court deals with. About 1 in 10 cases that are petitioned to the Supreme Court get to file written briefs. Of those, about 1 in 50 actually argue in front of the court, Colton said.
“I can’t live with myself if I didn’t file this,” Colton said. “This is a person that truly did deserve probation.”
Vasquez, who is imprisoned at the Lincoln Correctional Center, has 11 years left on her sentence.