Even If or Especially Since

 Posted on February 04, 2010 in Uncategorized

After Rosa Villegas-Vatres ran a red light and hit and killed Steve Morrison, she was arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide (John Nova Lomax, Houston Press; easier to read all-on-one-page print version).

Villegas-Vatres wanted to plead guilty to misdemeanor deadly conduct. The prosecutor, Brent Mayr told Steve Morrison's family that, and warned them that it was a difficult case and that the chance of a guilty verdict was not very high.

The Morrisons were undaunted. After discussing the matter in a family meeting, the Morrisons voted and it was unanimous. Frank Morrison told Mayr they wanted Villegas-Vatres to be prosecuted to the hilt, even if that meant she would be deported back to a potentially dangerous situation in El Salvador. "That way at least if she was found not guilty, she would have gone through the judicial system and had a fair trial," he says. "We would rather have seen that than to have her plead down to a misdemeanor and pay a fine or something. And we all felt that she was trying hard to get that plea bargain, because that T-visa would have been revoked if she had been convicted of a felony. They would have deported her. And my niece and nephew and both my sisters and I decided we would go for it all."

(Emphasis added.) That is perfectly understandable: she killed their loved one; they wanted her to have a fair trial, even if it meant that she would be deported and killed. Equally understandably, they also wanted to be able judge how she felt about what she had done:

Like so many victims' families, the Morrisons wanted to see the perpetrator's demeanor. "We were gonna be able to see how this woman reacted," he says. "Did she hang her head? Was she sorry? Was she remorseful, or was this just another day for her?"

Then the case was dismissed.

The family could still get a lawyer and file suit against Ms. Villegas-Vatres. A civil suit would be much easier to prove-the standard of proof would be lower, and the fact that she ran a red light would effectively put the burden on Ms. Villegas-Vatres to show that she was not negligent.

A civil case wouldn't even have to go to trial to satisfy the family's need to see her demeanor; notice Ms. Villegas-Vatres's deposition and (even if she takes the Fifth) you can see if she hangs her head, is sorry, or is remorseful for accidentally causing the death of another human being (in other words, if she is not a sociopath). It would cost a couple or three grand, and the even if wouldn't come into play-Ms. Villegas-Vatres would have no chance of being deported to El Salvador for a civil judgment.

But "after estimating that Villegas-Vatres was likely not a wealthy woman, the family decided to forgo that option." You don't go around suing uninsured judgment-proof drivers for the money, but the family's decision sets a value on the things that the family wanted-a fair trial, and to see her demeanor.

When they had the possibility of getting those things (and possibly some retribution) while the taxpayers were paying the lawyer, it was worth prosecuting the case "to the hilt." When the burden of paying shifted to the family, however, the math changed. Suing Ms. Villegas-Vatres civilly was not seen as worthwhile, even if there was no chance of her losing her T Visa and being deported to El Salvador.

It's commendable that the family put Villegas-Vatres's possible deportation on the debit side-if I were in their situation I can imagine that I might have made the same decisions while saying, instead of "even if," especially since.

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