As a Massachusetts OUI criminal defense attorney, I wrote in April about the death of a young woman from Salem, 19-year-old Julia Gauthier, in a drunk driving accident. Gauthier was riding home from a party in a car driven by her boyfriend, Christopher Maxson, when he ran two stop signs, was clipped by another driver and flipped his SUV. The resulting accident threw Gauthier from the vehicle’s sunroof, killing her at the scene. Maxson and two other passengers suffered only minor injuries. Maxson pleaded not guilty at the time to motor vehicle homicide while driving under the influence. But on Dec. 17, Maxson changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to three to four years in state prison. The sentence was less than some of Gauthier’s family wanted, but more than the defense had hoped for.
The hearing was marked by statements from both families. Gauthier’s family read statements about her achievements and her promise in life; she was a college student when she died. Gauthier’s mother, Marie Gauthier, said she knew Maxson didn’t intend to kill her daughter and described the situation as a tragedy for both families. She said she hoped the experience would rehabilitate him. Maxson’s probation officer from a previous marijuana possession offense said he believed Maxson was open to rehabilitation and suffering from bipolar disorder. Maxson himself cried in court as his father read a letter he had written, saying he misses Gauthier and begs for forgiveness.
As a Massachusetts OUI criminal defense lawyer, I hope the probation officer is right. Maxson wrote in his letter that his feelings — missing Gauthier and knowing he’s responsible — are already “the ultimate punishment.” That doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate for the commonwealth of Massachusetts to also penalize him, but I suspect the judge took Maxson’s remorse into account when sentencing him. The maximum sentence for felony motor vehicle homicide is 15 years in prison, and Maxson’s sentence is significantly lower. However, he will likely also face a license suspension and other penalties for any OUI, not to mention the post-release consequences of a felony conviction. In fact, his accident has already been used by Salem-area high schools as an example of the terrible consequences of drinking and driving. These are very serious penalties for a young man just launching into adulthood — but I hope they help him and others avoid more fatal accidents caused by irresponsibility and mistakes.