Blog of Rights

No Prison for Jaywalking Mom, But She Wants a New Trial

By Steve Gosset, ACLU at 1:32pm

We told you yesterday about the plight of Raquel Nelson, a suburban Atlanta woman who was convicted of charges connected to the death of her four-year-old son, who was killed last year by a drunk driver as they crossed a street.

Nelson was found guilty of homicide by vehicle, jaywalking and reckless conduct, and faced up to three years in prison, even though the driver in the hit-and-run tragedy only served six months in jail. Fortunately, some common sense prevailed in court yesterday, when state Judge Kathleen Tanksley sentenced Nelson to a year’s probation and community service. Tanksley also took the unusual step of offering Nelson the option of a new trial, which she has accepted in an effort to clear her name. Good for her. Better yet, the state should drop all charges and allow Nelson and her family the opportunity to fully heal from this horrible accident.

The lingering issue is why this case was brought at all. Too often, prosecutors rely on incarceration and punishment as a knee-jerk response to tragic events and garner publicity to show they are tough on crime. But invariably, justice is nowhere close to being served.

Of course, it didn’t help that Nelson, an African-American, was convicted by an all-white jury in Cobb County, which has a checkered history of serious racial discrimination. It was a jury that may not have understood that crossing the street at that particular bus stop was a virtual necessity for residents in that neighborhood. Most never had to ride a bus, like Nelson and her three children did that fateful day, and faced a walk of more than a quarter-mile to a crosswalk.

But maybe that didn’t matter. Instead, they appear to have been guided by prosecutors who put forth a misguided notion of justice,, that somehow putting a grieving mother on trial would set everything right in the eyes of the law. Of course, it doesn’t. Now, it’s time for the state Solicitor General, who brought the charges against Nelson, to admit that and let her be.

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