Coyne pleaded guilty Tuesday to multiple counts of Aggravated DWI, Aggravated DWI with a child in the vehicle (Leandra’s Law), Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated, and Acting in a Manner Injurious to a Child. She was sentenced by Judge Robert Wiggins to 1 year in Livingston County Jail, including five months already served, to be followed by 5 years probation and mandatory participation in the requirements of the Livingston County Treatment Court.
The case has been closely watched, and both Assistant District Attorney Joshua Tonra and Judge Wiggins indicated that they had received voluminous community input on the case as it worked its way through court.
At sentencing, A.D.A. Tonra indicated that the sentence being passed, 1 year plus probation, was not the one he had sought throughout the case, and that he preferred what he described as a harsher sentence of 1-to-3 years in State prison, followed by 2 years probation. Tonra argued that the severity of the charges, reflecting the heightened burden of safety and responsibility placed on school bus drivers by parents and the community, who entrust their children’s lives to such people, merited the harsher penalty.
Judge Wiggins passed the 1-year sentence anyway, stating that it was in many ways a harsher sentence than what the District Attorney had asked for. The Judge described the rigors of the program Coyne would be subject to, including inpatient and outpatient alcoholism treatment, rigorous oversight by the Livingston County Drug Court, random and frequent blood alcohol testing, and regular participation in follow-up outside treatment programs, in addition to the stringent demands of a full 5 years probation.
Wiggins, who participates on the Drug Court Team, said in court that Coyne has already participated fully and successfully in addiction treatment, and “has done very well.” He added that little actual treatment would be available in the State prison system, and that what exists would be of much lower quality and rigor.
Wiggins noted that under a sentence of 1-to-3 years in State, she could conceivably be out in a year “with none of that treatment, free to come and go as she pleased, relatively speaking.”
In an interview after court, Coyne’s acting defense attorney, Kevin Van Allen, also spoke of the rigors of the program Coyne would be entering, and the supervision she would be enduring for years. He referred to the State Prison scenario as little more than “warehousing,” with Coyne eligible for parole after 1 year, and subject to only 2 years of routine supervision by the parole board.
Livingston County District Attorney Greg McCaffrey also commented on the high-profile case. “We wanted a State prison term. It was a serious offense. Driving a school bus is a high-responsibility position, and parents have an absolute right to expect that bus drivers are behaving responsibly, and not driving their children around intoxicated. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare.”
While Tuesday’s sentence wasn’t not the D.A.’s preference, McCaffrey acknowledged that under the actual sentence, Coyne would be under supervision closer and for longer than she would likely have been with a term in State prison.
McCaffrey, Tonra, and Van Allen all gave significant credit for the Judge’s decision to Sarah Wesley, Coyne’s primary defense attorney. McCaffrey acknowledged the excellent job done by Wesley: “From the beginning and every step of the way she advocated for her client and sought a sentence that would allow for rehabilitation and strong treatment, rather than simple incarceration.”
McCaffrey said, “It wasn’t the sentence we wanted, and we disagreed with it. We feel it was too lenient. But it’s not a bad outcome. I hope she does well and turns her life around.”
Livingston County’s Drug Treatment Court has been in operation since February of 2004, and is widely seen as an effective approach to handling non-violent cases that involve substance abuse in one form or another. In it’s first year of operation the program managed about 75 cases, a rate that has since expanded. Current figures were not available. The team that actively oversees each case includes Judge Wiggins and representatives from the D.A.’s office, the probation department, and the professional treatment community.
As described by Van Allen, the outpatient treatment program in Livingston County that Coyne would most likely be attending when she gets out of jail is provided by the Livingston County Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse of Geneseo, or LCCASA. The program is typically between a year and 18 months in length. The 5 years probation supervision would also follow her release from jail, including regular reporting, random drug and/or alcohol testing, and non-existent or highly restricted driving privileges, with ignition interlock devices and the like.
Should Coyne fail to complete any of the requirements of the sentence or of the agreement with Drug Court, or violate probation in any way, she could be subject to an even harsher State prison sentence than that sought by the District Attorney. Van Allen pointed out that in such a scenario, for a class D felony that she has already pleaded guilty to, Coyne would be brought back into court and could face a much longer possible term of 2-1/3 to 7 years in State prison.