NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A bitter legal feud is showing no signs of abating in the case of a former “Melrose Place” actress who’s already served prison time for a fatal drunken driving crash nine years ago but could wind up back behind bars.
Through three sentences issued by two judges and numerous appeals, the Somerset County prosecutor’s office has cast Amy Locane’s initial, three-year sentence as a miscarriage of justice and a slap in the face for the family of victim Helene Seeman. Two separate appellate courts have agreed and sent the case back for resentencing.
Most recently, in February, state Superior Court Judge Kevin Shanahan sentenced Locane to five years, meaning she’d likely have to serve an additional 20 months. But Shanahan allowed her to remain free while her attorney tries again to argue she is protected from going back to prison by constitutional rights against double jeopardy, or being punished twice for the same crime.
An appeals court had already rejected that argument, but now another appeals court will consider the issue. Locane’s attorney, James Wronko, contends she is protected because she’s already served her full prison sentence plus three years’ parole.
In a court filing last month, the Somerset County prosecutor’s office strongly criticized Shanahan, alleging he ignored the higher court’s instructions and even made up a fictitious case as a comparison to justify Locane’s sentence. It requested that the sentence be vacated and Shanahan removed from the case.
Shanahan “violated the bedrock principle of our jurisprudence,” prosecutors wrote, adding that a blanket order must be issued to all judges because “a profound systemic correction is needed to avoid a repetition of the fundamental errors repeatedly committed in the Law Division.”
Locane crashed into Seeman and her husband, Fred, as they turned into their driveway in Montgomery Township, in central New Jersey, in March 2010. The actress contended the crash was an accident and that a third motorist, whose car Locane had bumped into at a traffic light minutes earlier, distracted her by honking at her and chasing her after being rear-ended.
The indictment didn’t mention intoxication, but a state expert testified Locane’s blood alcohol level was likely about three times the legal limit and that she was driving roughly 53 mph in a 35-mph zone at the time of the crash.
Locane, who acted in 13 episodes of the popular Fox series and has also appeared in several movies, was convicted of vehicular manslaughter, assault by auto and other offenses and faced a sentencing range of five to 10 years on the most serious count. The state sought a seven-year sentence.
Shanahan is the second judge to sentence Locane. Trial judge Robert Reed sentenced her to three years in 2013, but an appeals court ruled he misapplied the law by downgrading the most serious charge. At a resentencing, Reed declined to give Locane any additional time, and again an appeals court sent the case back, this time to Shanahan.
At the February resentencing, Fred Seeman tearfully spoke of how the accident has ripped his family apart, and he castigated Reed for giving more weight to the suffering of Locane’s young children than to his family’s pain. The Seemans reached a monetary settlement in 2017 with Locane and a couple who hosted a party where Locane drank alcohol before the crash.
Locane shouldn’t be resentenced at all, according to Wronko, who declined comment on the case. Citing case law dating as far back as 1873, he wrote in a filing Friday that double jeopardy protects her from going back to prison.
“A defendant is protected by double jeopardy principles from prosecution for an offense after an acquittal on the same offense,” he wrote. “Additionally, a defendant is protected from multiple punishments for the same offense.”
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