The Post-Star newspaper points out that the cops and prosecutors of Washington County, New York can’t be that dumb…there has to be more at play in why a well-connected DWI driver was treated to lesser charges than what an incident in which he was responsible…
We’re skeptical the Washington County district attorney’s office and Washington County Sheriff’s Office are as incompetent as they would have to be to fumble a case the way they did the investigation and prosecution of Steven Sharp.
We’re inclined to believe the offices’ odd passivity when it came to prosecuting Sharp was caused by his connections — he is the son of a retired state trooper and the nephew of a Washington County sheriff’s administrator — and not by laziness or lack of organization.
Last October, a drunken Sharp rolled his car on Route 196, injuring Malarie Entrup, who was a passenger in the car. The crash cut Entrup’s head and broke her back, collarbone and elbow. She suffered a concussion.
Sharp, 21, from Granville, suffered minor injuries. Police did not charge him at the scene, but awaited results from a blood test.
When it came back, the test showed Sharp’s blood alcohol level was 0.18 percent, more than twice the level for legal intoxication and high enough that he could have been charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated.
But Sharp was charged in May only with driving while intoxicated and was allowed last month to plead guilty to a lesser charge — driving while ability impaired, a noncriminal violation.
He was fined $340 and paid a $260 surcharge. His license was suspended for 90 days, but he was allowed to get a conditional license so he could travel back and forth to work. He had to listen to a victims impact panel.
We hope Sharp did listen and learn from the stories of lives lost and ruined.
We hope he did not take to heart the more obvious lesson of his case: that his family connections allowed him to walk away from a serious crime with a minor punishment.
Sharp’s sentence should have been proportionate to the seriousness of the offense, and it wasn’t.
He should have been charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated and felony vehicular assault. Then, if he had been allowed to plead, he could have pleaded down to no less than driving while intoxicated, and would have faced more severe penalties, including losing his license for six months.
Sharp could have learned a different lesson: that he was going to be held responsible for his actions, despite his family ties. That would have discouraged him from further recklessness.
The irony is the favoritism shown Sharp could hurt him more than it helps him. Because he got off easy, he’s more likely to indulge again in dangerous behavior, and next time he could kill someone.
Both police and prosecutors played games with this case, delaying action until it could be settled, hopefully when no one was paying attention.
Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan would have us believe the assistant district attorney handling the case was confused about when charges were filed in the case and never checked the record before agreeing to the lenient plea deal.
Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy would have us believe he was so unconcerned with a case involving the nephew of one of his top staffers that he “didn’t know” why Sharp was charged with DWI instead of aggravated DWI.
Everyone is shrugging, looking the other way and trying to change the subject.
We believe everything that was done in this case was done intentionally. Prosecutors and police postponed it on purpose and tried to settle it quietly.
But Sharp’s case is out in the open now, and the best we can hope for is that neither the Washington County Sheriff’s Office nor the county District Attorney’s Office allows another case to be handled in the same way.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star’s editorial board, which consists of Publisher Terry Coomes, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran and citizen representative Mike Sundberg.