Tulsa County District Judge James Caputo vacated the convictions and sentence of a man convicted of three counts of first degree manslaughter after causing an accident that killed a couple and their son.
Steven Wade Jameson was driving without a license on Christmas Eve 2009 when he crashed his 2004 Hummer H2 into a Chevy Cobalt, killing the family inside. Jameson, then 20, was subsequently charged with three counts of first degree manslaughter for causing a fatal accident while driving under suspension and possession of marijuana.
Jameson pleaded guilty to the charges in 2011, and Associate District Judge Matthew Henry sentenced him to 24 years in prison followed by 8 years of probation.
Now,Judge Caputo has vacated both the conviction and the sentence, after Jameson's appellate lawyer pointed out that the defendant should not have been charged with first degree manslaughter--punishable by a minimum of four years in prison--but instead should have been charged under a statute specifically pertaining to causing a fatal accident while driving without a license:
Any person who, while operating a vehicle in this state without a valid driver license for the class of vehicle being operated, or while knowingly disqualified to operate a motor vehicle in this state, or while such person knows or should have known that his or her driver license is canceled, denied, suspended or revoked, causes an accident resulting in the death of any other person, may be charged with a violation of the provisions of this subsection. Any person who is convicted of a violation of the provisions of this subsection shall be deemed guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for a term not more than five (5) years, or by a fine in an amount not exceeding Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment. 47 O.S. § 11-905(c)
If convicted under that statute, which specifically relates to the allegations in this case, Jameson would have faced a maximum of five years for each death.
Judge Caputo also vacated Jameson's sentence, citing inconsistencies in the verbal and written sentences handed down by Judge Henry, which made the sentence "impossible to carry out."
Jameson's attorney says that not only was his client charged under the wrong law, but also that a judge has since ruled that the license suspension--a key element in his conviction--was improper. The suspension of his license has been vacated.
Jameson will remain behind bars at least until January 25, giving the District Attorney's office time to appeal his conviction. Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler says that even if the judge upholds the appeal, he will seek to refile charges under the theory that Jameson was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident.
Image Credit: Tulsa County Jail