Recently, a Kentucky man was charged with striking a West Virginia girl with his car and killing her over the previous weekend. Though Brandon Cornette posted bond and was released from jail, he faces misdemeanor manslaughter-negligent homicide charges. These charges may increase if a blood test reveals that he had oxycodone in his system at the time.
Cornette was driving on Route 52 in Wayne County on a Saturday evening when he struck and killed Isol Colleen Newsome, age six. Newsome was waiting to cross Route 52 with her father and brothers and may have stepped out into the road. Cornette’s car was carrying three passengers at the time. Because the backseat of the car held a cooler with alcoholic drinks, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department gave Cornette a breathalyzer test. The test came back with no signs of alcohol.
Newsome allegedly flew five or six feet after being struck, and there was no sign that Cornette attempted to apply the breaks beforehand. Though the breathalyzer test showed no alcohol in his bloodstream, if the blood test shows oxycodone or alcohol, Cornette could face DUI charges. Under West Virginia law, driving under the influence of a controlled substance, causing death, carries a penalty of two to 10 years in prison, as well as $1,000 to $3,000 in fines. By contrast, if Cornette had been charged under misdemeanor manslaughter-negligent homicide only, the penalty would have been up to one year in prison and a fine ranging from $100 to $1,000.
Cornette had a prior record of driving while intoxicated in Martin County, Kentucky. In 2004, he was charged with operating a vehicle under the influence, which was later reduced to a reckless driving charge. In 2006, Cornette was convicted of misdemeanor public intoxication, but only paid a fine and did not serve time. It is unknown whether Cornette will make any court appearances in this case.
Any criminal suspect in West Virginia is entitled to representation by a West Virginia criminal defense attorney. The reason is because the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution provides that criminal suspects should have “the Assistance of Counsel for [their] defence.” In fact, whenever a suspect is arrested, police are required state this when reading his or her Miranda rights. If a criminal suspect cannot afford an attorney, he or she may have one appointed by the state. That said, most criminal proceedings never make it to trial, as the prosecutor and the defense attorney often agree to a plea bargain, where the criminal suspect pleads guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence.
If a criminal suspect refuses to plead guilty to the charges, and goes to trial, he or she has the benefit of a high threshold for finding a suspect guilty. Whereas in a civil trial, the high threshold is “preponderance of evidence,” a criminal trial’s threshold is the highest: beyond a reasonable doubt. If a jury has any reason to doubt whether the evidence shows that the suspect violated the law, a jury can find the suspect not guilty.