In 2011, a Sioux Falls woman was sentenced to 70 years behind bars for driving drunk the wrong way down the interstate, killing a 27-year-old man. Now her case is in front of the South Dakota Supreme Court.
A jury convicted 30-year-old Tammy Jean Kvasnicka of manslaughter and vehicular homicide following the crash that killed Michael Xayavong in July 2010. Kvasnicka was drunk, with a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08 and it was her third DUI. Kvasnicka's attorney, Nicole Laughlin, said the jury was prejudiced against her client.
At the original trial, an officer who reconstructed the crime scene compared the force of the impact during the crash to the force of 902 40-caliber Glock handguns firing at the same time. Laughlin claimed this distracted the jury from what really happened.
"You can't just take the item you're seeking to prove is a deadly weapon and replace it with something that is obviously a deadly weapon. That is obviously what they did when they used this example. It is highly prejudicial," Laughlin said.
Assistant Attorney General and prosecutor Ann Meyer said there was no report of how fast Kvasnicka was going, and the jury needed to better understand how speed made her car a "dangerous weapon." Meyer said there is good reason why the officer used a handgun as an example.
"That's where this officer's expertise is. He is not a baseball player or a football player. He doesn't have expertise in those areas," Meyer said.
Laughlin said Kvasnicka's past two DUIs unfairly influenced the jury while they were looking at whether Kvasnicka was guilty of two counts of manslaughter while committing a felony; in this case, a third DUI.
"The state was able to take what is very clean cut, my client was intoxicated, driving down the interstate the wrong way and killed someone. Those are horrid facts in and of themselves. They're able to shape those and say, 'This multiple DUI offender was barreling down the interstate at the force of 902 Glock handguns pointed at these victims,'" Laughlin said.
But Meyer said these are moot points.
"If you want to talk about a nonsensical argument, then the nonsensical argument is there is some kind of prejudice or due process argument on these first two counts because the defendant was not convicted on these two counts," Meyer said.
Laughlin also said the formula for determining the force of impact was faulty because she claimed the officer got it from Wikipedia, a site that anyone without expertise can edit. Meyer claimed this was not true and the officer did in fact get the information from experts in kinetic energy.
Supreme Court Justices will make a decision on this appeal at a later date.
Click on the play button below to watch the entire hearing.