Mark Hurlbert: DA explains plea deal
Editor’s note: This column refers to an Eagle County case involving Martin Erzinger, charged with a hit-and-run accident with a cyclist, Dr. Steven Milo. The case has attracted a great deal of attention nationally due to it being perceived by some as a wealthy person getting off lightly.
Over the weekend, I have received over 1,000 e-mails from all over the country regarding the Erzinger case. Because of that I feel the need to explain why I am offering the plea bargain proposed in the Erzinger case. Either through the bent of the Vail Daily article or my own inartful comments, I feel that the reason for the plea bargain was not properly conveyed.
First, let me say that from the start I feel for Dr. Milo and sincerely hope that he has a complete and speedy recovery from his injuries. So, why did I offer two misdemeanors on such a serious case?
Despite what is implied in the Vail Daily, Dr. Milo never asked me to plead Mr. Erzinger to a felony. Dr. Milo asked that I plead Mr. Erzinger to a felony deferred judgment and sentence. What this means is that Mr. Erzinger would plead to a felony leaving the scene of an accident and the judgment would be set aside. In either two or four years, as long as Mr. Erzinger met certain conditions, the case would drop off his record and he would be allowed to seal this case. Since there was no alcohol or drugs involved, the only conditions I could legally ask for were that he pay restitution and stay out of trouble. Given that he had a clean history, Mr. Erzinger would essentially have been able to write a check and the case would then be dismissed. On top of that, while Dr. Milo was still probably recovering from his injuries, Mr. Erzinger would be able to say that he had no criminal history and even deny that anything had happened. That is not something I could stomach.
I therefore offered Mr. Erzinger plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and careless driving causing serious bodily injury. This means that for the rest of his life, Mr. Erzinger will have on his record that he carelessly drove, caused another human being serious bodily injury and left the scene. He will lose his driver’s license, face potential jail time as determined by the judge and still have to pay restitution, which as I said in the Vail Daily is important to us, but not an overriding objective in the plea.. Obviously there is a benefit to Mr. Erzinger on taking the misdemeanors – he keeps his job. If he were to plea to the deferred he may or may not lose his job, but either way, as mentioned above, in a couple of years he would be able to tell any prospective employer that he had no criminal history.
There has been much made about Mr. Erzinger’s wealth. That is of no concern to me other than as it pertains to restitution to Dr. Milo. I have not asked Mr. Erzinger for any money either to myself or to the district attorney’s office and he has not offered. Both of us understand that would be highly illegal.
Finally, I appreciate the constructive comments I have received. And even if I have not responded, I have read every single one of them. If after reading this, you still feel that I am wrong for the plea bargain, I take full responsibility and welcome any constructive comments. But be forewarned, that there is not much I can change at this point. I made the plea offer months ago and the defense has accepted. This means that even if I wanted to change the plea offer, I could not. The only person that can reject it at this point is the judge. Again, I welcome any constructive comments in this case.
Mark Hurlbert, District Attorney
Fifth Judicial District
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