DUI defense attorney says MS sentencing law unconstitutional

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A drunk driving case in Gulfport could end up challenging the constitutionality of Mississippi's DUI laws. Defense attorney Michael Crosby said he's prepared to carry the Darrell Blappert case all the way to the State Supreme Court, if necessary.

Blappert is accused of fatally striking a young mother. He admitted to WLOX he had been drinking in March of 2011 when he struck and killed DeAnna Tucker, the daughter of the Gulfport police chief. Tucker and her young son had just left a bridal shop on Pass Road where she'd gone to look at her dress for her wedding planned for the next month. Blappert's vehicle left the road and slammed into a vehicle, which pinned Tucker between two cars.

So some people might wonder why the case is still about to go to trial?  Crosby said the argument isn't that Blappert is innocent, but that the punishment should fit the crime.

Crosby said Blappert doesn't want to face a jury's judgement. But because prosecutors won't accept a plea of less than 20 years, his client, who has a young son, has no choice.

"He's never denied that he made mistakes that he regrets beyond imagination. The question is how much should he be punished. And unless we can come to some kind of reasonable agreement, then here we are. "

Crosby said the way Mississippi divvies out DUI punishments is unconstitutional.

"This case will affect the entire state of Mississippi. It will," Crosby said. "Because we have challenged the constitutionality. If we don't get a ruling in our favor here, we will of course take it to the highest court. And they're going to have to face the fact that the way this law is being applied and the penalty is extreme and severe."

Crosby said, "Let's just say you have a situation where someone is completely falling down intoxicated. They drive the wrong way down a road and people are diving out of the way. If you don't hit somebody, regardless of the fact of how intoxicated you might be, that's a misdemeanor because no one got hurt."

"But if somehow someone gets hurt and you're the slightest degree negligent, the way the law is written, then you're looking at up to 25 years," said Crosby.

Crosby questions why Blappert should be made to do 20 years or more when others charged with DUI causing injury or death have received far less time.

"Recently there was a case, a very similar case, where a lady fled the scene," Crosby said. "She tried to evade and her conduct after the accident was not particularly good. She got 12 years."

When asked why he thought no such recommendation was being made in the Blappert case, Crosby said WLOX would have to ask the District Attorney's office because he didn't like to speculate.

"I understand 100 percent," said Crosby. "The family, they'll never see their child again. But we can't change that. It doesn't mean that we should destroy his life."

WLOX tried to get District Attorney Joel Smith's reaction to Crosby's claims, but Smith said his office cannot discuss plea deals. A hearing on the constitutionality of the case is tentatively slated for next week.

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