The 41-month sentence was appropriate for the offense.
There was a lot of public speculation about how the high-profile Amy Senser hit-and-run trial would go. Would a white, well-to-do wife of a prominent sports figure be held accountable in the death of an immigrant Thai chef? Just how much influence do fame and connections have in the justice system? Is equality before the law a reality as well as an ideal?
The last chapter of the saga this week provided reassuring answers to those questions. The outcome was a tribute to our system of justice -- a demonstration that the search for truth, and its consequences, can be applied equally regardless of race, income or prominence.
In May, a jury convicted Senser of two counts of criminal vehicular homicide in the death of Anousone Phanthavong, 38, on Aug. 23 of last year. On Monday, Hennepin County District Judge Daniel Mabley rightly sentenced her to 41 months in prison for those offenses. She began serving her time the same day at the Shakopee women's prison; she'll be incarcerated for at least two-thirds of that time and will spend the remaining months of her sentence on probation.
As the wife of former Minnesota Viking-turned-restaurant owner Joe Senser, the defendant had a well-known name. She had been a law-abiding citizen, and no one thought she had run down Phanthavong deliberately. Given her background, some believed she was a good candidate for extended probation or community service.
But Senser deserved jail time for the choices she made after the accident. During sentencing, Judge Mabley said he was doubtful that she didn't know she had hit a person and that she hadn't really accepted responsibility for what she had done. Though her family turned in the SUV she was driving the day after the incident, it took nine more days for her to admit driving the vehicle.
Because so much time elapsed, it may never be known whether she was drinking and driving or if she kept other secrets about what happened that night.
This level of punishment was also warranted as a deterrent to those who might think it's OK to leave the scene of an accident. Judge Mabley said it was important to send the message to other drivers that a hit-and-run is a serious crime.
"Persons leaving the scenes of accidents are becoming epidemic in Minnesota," Mabley said.
Circumstances vary in hit-and-run cases, as do the sentences for those convicted. For example, in March an Oronoco man was given 16 years in prison in the November 2010 hit-and-run of four people in Rochester, one of whom died. Authorities lodged 21 counts against the defendant and determined that he had been drinking.
In February, a Bloomington man was sentenced to three months in the workhouse for a hit-and-run that killed a woman in October 2010 on Old Shakopee Road. And in 2010, a 48-year-old Minnetonka man was sentenced to 57 months -- the maximum time provided for under Minnesota's sentencing guidelines -- for fleeing the scene after rear-ending a motorcyclist in Chanhassen, killing her.
At 41 months, Senser got the least amount of time contemplated under the sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors had requested the maximum. Still, the prosecution and several legal experts agreed that three years and five months was fair and appropriate.
Senser's conviction and sentence builds confidence in our system of justice. We hope the case will make others think twice before leaving the scene of an accident.
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