A Bloomington man was awarded a stiff 13-year prison sentence after he drove his motorcycle into protesters. One woman suffered abdominal injuries while another man sustained a swollen arm. The defendant, Marshall Blanchard, was given seven years for failing to give information following a traffic accident, and another six years on the hate crime charge. The sentences will run concurrently, however, meaning he will only have to serve, at most, seven years. He will also be given credit for time served. Several charges were dismissed as a part of the plea bargain, which on its face, makes little sense. Below, we will discuss why.
Failing to Give Information After an Accident
Failing to give information after an accident is generally charged as a class-A misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in jail. He was given six years, probably due to his negotiated plea to run concurrently (at the same time) with a more severe hate crime charge. The maximum penalty for the most serious types of hate crimes is seven years.
The defendant was not charged with vehicular assault, attempted murder, reckless endangerment, or any of the other potential charges he could have faced. For symbolic reasons, the prosecutor may have been more interested in affixing a hate crime charge to the defendant’s record than proving any of the other crimes, which all would have required some degree of intent. In other words, the prosecutors would have needed to show that the defendant’s actions were intentional. While this may have not been overly difficult, proving intent is difficult.
The plea, on its face, however, does not necessarily make sense. Leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage or injury is a serious accusation, but it falls short of admitting that the defendant intentionally attempted to harm the complainants. If you add to that the hate crime charge, on its face, it does not add up because to prove a crime is a hate crime, you have to prove both intent and malice toward a protected group of people.
Plea bargains are not required to make sense, however. The defendant may have had a strong argument for why he did not intentionally hit the victims and the prosecutors may have been afraid that a jury would not buy their case without a smoking gun. So, they leveraged the plaintiff into a plea that kept the hate crime charge on his record and served as the most egregious offense and largest sentence they could get.
The prosecutors would have likely gone through the defendant’s personal correspondence, social media profiles, and more to show that the defendant had an affinity for hate groups and hateful ideology. They would then need only to prove that the defendant targeted the complainants, causing injury.
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