A Laurel resident who seriously injured a couple in a drunk driving accident was given a light sentence for the offense because her blood tests were not admitted as evidence, Prince George's County Circuit Court records indicate.
They show that Mary Hope Pinkney, 26, had a blood alcohol content well above the legal standard for driving when she hit the other car, and that it was her second accident that evening.
But Pinkney's test results, which had been reported in a local newspaper shortly after the January 1985 incident, "did not catch up with the file" when the case was transferred from District Court to Circuit Court upon appeal, said Assistant State's Attorney Laura Gwinn, who was assigned to the case in Circuit Court.
"We deal in such volumes of paper work, sometimes things get lost or misplaced," said Gwinn, who was not responsible for the transfer of the contents of the case file. "The problem is sheer numbers. It's impossible to keep up."
The blood test indicates that Pinkney had a blood alcohol content of 0.20 percent at the time of the accidents, one of which left an Upper Marlboro woman maimed and her husband seriously injured. A level of 0.13 percent is considered driving while intoxicated in Maryland.
Pinkney pleaded guilty in September to driving under the influence of alcohol, a much less serious offense than driving while intoxicated, as part of an arrangement negotiated by her lawyer and Circuit Court Judge Vincent J. Femia.
Femia, citing the fact that it was Pinkney's first offense, sentenced her to six months' probation before judgment -- basically, unsupervised probation -- and fined her $250.
Femia, who handles virtually all drunk driving cases appealed from the county's District Court, said that had he seen the test results, he would have sentenced Pinkney more harshly.
"I have been doing this for 14 years, and I have never given anyone with a 0.20" blood alcohol content unsupervised probation and a $250 fine, he said.
Femia said the usual sentence for a first-time offender with a 0.20 blood alcohol content would be four days in jail or eight days on a road crew.
Gwinn, who was not present at the pretrial hearing at which Pinkney entered her plea, said it is standard procedure for an attorney unfamiliar with a drunk driving case to represent the state at pretrial hearings, where pleas are often entered.
That procedure has caused concern among some court observers.
"This kind of mishap is not unique. It happens every day," said John Rooney, president of the central Maryland chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Rooney said that the record of Prince George's County on such cases is similar to those of other counties in the state and that Maryland courts need "strict guidelines" on prosecuting and sentencing in drunk driving cases.
The controversy in the Pinkney case stems from the night in January 1985 that Pinkney's car hit the rear of another vehicle stopped at a traffic light on Rte. 1 near Beltsville. According to police reports, a Maryland-National Capital Park Police officer who witnessed the accident told Pinkney not to move, but she drove away with her car's headlights off.
About 10 minutes later, Pinkney's car was involved in a head-on crash with the car of Robert and Linda Jones of Upper Marlboro.
Pinkney, who was alone, had a broken leg and a concussion.
Linda Jones received massive injuries. She lost her left eye and her spleen and had more than 50 broken bones. Jones, 32, a legal secretary, said she was in a hospital for six months after the accident and has incurred medical bills of more than $300,000.
Robert Jones, 34, a letter carrier, had broken ribs, a punctured lung, and numerous cuts and bruises.
The Joneses, who received $50,000 from Pinkney's insurance company, said they have dropped a civil suit against Pinkney seeking additional money because she is indigent.
They said they were bitterly disappointed by the outcome of the trial.
Pinkney "did not even have her license revoked," Linda Jones said. "She should have been sent to jail, and she walks out of there scot-free. For all I know, she could be out there doing it to someone else."
Femia, who handles more than 60 drunk driving cases a week, said that while he sympathized with the Joneses' injuries, he could not take them into account when sentencing Pinkney.
"From the perspective of a criminal trial, whether a drunk hits a mailbox or a child is irrelevant," he said. "I punish the crime of drunk driving, not the result of drunk driving."
Femia said it was "a shame" that the blood test results were not admitted in the case, because "the state only gets one bite at the apple. We don't get a second chance."
While the accident was tragic, Femia added, it was just one of more than 5,000 drunk driving cases in the county last year. "It went through the cracks," he said. "It's sad, but it's an imperfect system. We're human."