Anoka County judge gives woman a break in DWI case

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 22, 2012 - 10:09 PM

Amy Francen, who served time for a fatal accident in 2004, gets a six-month sentence instead of four years in prison.

Amy Francen told her therapist she has struggled every day since she drove under the influence of methamphetamine and struck another vehicle, killing a teen who was on her way to buy a prom dress in 2004. She said she has flashbacks that cause her to cry so hard she can't calm herself down.

Francen served time in prison for the death of Amy Jo Monette, 18. She has struggled with mental and physical illnesses since the accident.

Last year, Francen, now 38, was charged with felony drunken driving after an accident in the parking lot outside her Coon Rapids apartment.

She pleaded guilty to the felony, for which state guidelines recommend a four-year prison sentence. Instead, Anoka County District Judge James Cunningham Jr. on Tuesday handed down a six-month sentence, most of which will be served on home monitoring.

He agreed with arguments from Francen's attorney that she is amenable to chemical dependency treatment and other treatment and that her felony drunken-driving charge was "less onerous" than the previous offense that killed Monette.

"I believe in second chances and redemption," the judge said. "If you come back to my court for violating any probation conditions, you are going to prison. I want you to know exactly what you are dealing with."

Assistant County Attorney Kurt Deile asked Cunningham to sentence Francen to four years in prison and said he was disappointed she will be serving time only on home detention and the county jail.

"We respect the court's decision," he said.

Jerry Messenbourg, Francen's attorney, said afterward that Cunningham was diligent in weighing the arguments for and against departure from the recommended sentencing guideline. If Francen were sent to prison, the Department of Corrections doesn't have the resources to adequately treat her mental and chemical dependency issues, he said.

At Tuesday's hearing, Messenbourg said Francen earned the departure because she's done well in treatment and has repeatedly passed tests for alcohol and drug use.

"If she goes to prison, she would be preyed upon," he said. "She's very vulnerable."

Francen was driving in the right lane on Hwy. 65 south of Isanti County Road 19 about 11 a.m. March 25, 2004, when her car moved without warning into the left lane and hit Monette's car, according to the criminal complaint. Both vehicles rolled onto their roofs, and Francen was ejected.

Francen told police that Monette's car encroached into her lane and that she had to take evasive action, the complaint said. She later pleaded guilty and received 4 1/2 years in prison.

Francen had difficulty expressing herself during Tuesday's hearing, but said she disappointed her family and Monette's family when she was charged with drunken driving. Nobody from Monette's family attended the hearing, but a victim services advocate from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) said she had been in contact with the family and would inform them about the sentence.

"The pain still continues for the victim's family," said Diane Homa of MADD. "This woman has been endangering people all these years. It happens more than the public knows."

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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