Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dr. James Corasanti is a local gastroenterologist who had too much to drink one night at a country club. Driving home he struck and killed a young woman who was on a longboard, and left the scene. He later surrendered to the police, and was charged with, inter alia, vehicular homicide, leaving the scene, and DWI. His trial was a big, big deal in these parts. The Buffalo News gave it top-of-the-fold, banner treatment daily, and on Sundays provided helpful recaps, including information that was not before the jury (like the fact that the doc had an earlier pop for driving while impaired). Just in case that wasn't enough information, the News also used the occasion to run helpful stories about why drinking and driving is bad. Lots of people wrote letters to the editor, too. Unsurprisingly these were mostly of the torch-and-pitchfork variety, although there was some support for tar and feathers as well. The doc was pretty well fixed in the bank department, and stood to lose his ticket if he was convicted of a felony, so he lawyered up with some of the best. It was hard to tell from the coverage, but my between the lines reading suggests that the Erie County District Attorney's office was counting more on outrage and less on cross-examination to carry the day for their side. Since his back was to the wall, and since they had the resources Corasanti's team turned the case into a battle of experts, and that was enough to establish reasonable doubt on the felony charges. The jury tagged him for misdemeanor DWI, which strongly suggests to me that this was a carefully reasoned verdict- on the charge where there was no doubt, he was convicted, on the charges where there was more or less unrebutted expert proof he got a walk. Naturally there were howls of indignation from nearly every quarter. I doubt that there were many judges-- or lawyers, for that matter-- who envied Judge Sheila A. DiTullio her sentencing decision. Sentiment was pretty hot during the trial, and got hotter after the verdict. On the other hand, a year in the jug, which was the max option, is pretty hard time for a cat like Corasanti. What good does it do to put the guy in stir? It doesn't bring the girl, Alex Rice, back. The family will be compensated for her death by the civil system. The doc has already learned the lesson he missed the first time. Nobody else is likely to learn anything because of this example. (If everyone in Erie County got a year for DWI the population center of Erie County would be Alden, not Buffalo.) I get why it came down this way, naturally, but when I drill down into the rationale for it I come up with very little.

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