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Law stiffens penalties in death-by-motor vehicle cases

The law would give judges power to sentence those convicted of the charge as much as 60 days in jail.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Those convicted of misdemeanor death by motor vehicle could face much tougher penalties.
Gov. Bev Perdue on Thursday signed a bill into law that, according to lawmakers, gives judges the authority to sentence those convicted of the charge as much as 60 days in jail.

It takes effect Dec. 1.

The governor was joined by lawmakers and two families whose stories prompted the law.

"People are careless. People disregard the law," said Marbeth Holmes. "Most collisions are avoidable, if people followed the law."

Holmes' parents, Jimmy and Mary Charles Holmes, were killed in June 2008 on U.S. Highway 401 in Franklin County when a driver crossed the center line, striking their car head-on.

Michael Martin, 16, was killed in Cabarrus County in 2005 when the car he was riding in slammed into a tree.

Under current sentencing structures, the people responsible for the crimes received a suspended sentence, probation and had their licenses revoked for two years.

“A judge needs to have the discretion to determine what is the appropriate punishment," said Sen. Doug Berger, D-Franklin, who sponsored a Senate version of the bill. "Under current law, no matter how serious the circumstances surrounding the misconduct leading to the death are, a judge is limited in not being able to utilize jail time as a consequence.”

"It's a very small step, but it's a good step," Michael Martin's father, Mike Martin, said.

Both families are still lobbying for more regulations, such as mandatory toxicology reports on any crash involving a fatality.

"Not every person that kills somebody on the highway is a bad person," Holmes said. "It's not about bad. It's about justice."


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