Originally created 12/15/03

Compensation to family reduces sentence in DUI case



WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A drunk driver received a reduced manslaughter sentence after he paid $100,000 to the victim's family, prompting criticism that he was buying more lenient treatment.

Dennis McLennand Jr., 26, of Wellington, made the offer the night before he pleaded guilty to killing a 3-month-old boy in a 2001 crash that also injured his mother and brother. He paid the family Thursday.

In return, the family of Alayn Aguila asked Circuit Judge Stephen Rapp to show leniency. McLennand was sentenced Friday to two years in prison, although his plea bargain had called for five years.

Prosecutor Elizabeth Parker said the deal sends a horrible message: "If you have money, you can get your sentence lowered."

Before issuing his sentence, Rapp answered critics who called the move "buying justice."

"We don't use that term," the judge said. "In most cases, we're happy to see defendants compensate their victims."

"This isn't buying justice," defense attorney Fred Susaneck said. "Why should we penalize people who can make restitution?"

Analysts said the deal might set a precedent for wealthy defendants to buy their way out of prison.

"It becomes another way in which those with financial means are able to have a different kind of justice," said Donna Coker, a professor of criminal law at the University of Miami School of Law.

Alayn was killed Oct. 8, 2001, when McLennand drove his Honda sedan into a group of people standing along the southbound lane of Interstate 95 near Riviera Beach. McLennand had a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent - above the 0.08 limit for drunken driving.