Driver in fatal crash wants to take back plea
By Dan Campana For The Beacon-News June 28, 2012 3:52PM
Alia Bernard / photo from Kane County State's Attorneys office
Updated: July 30, 2012 6:29AM
ST. CHARLES — Six months after pleading guilty to a 2009 crash that killed a St. Charles couple, Alia Bernard now wants to withdraw her plea.
Bernard, of Aurora, is serving a 7-year prison sentence on aggravated driving under the influence convictions tied to the deaths of Wade and Denise Thomas. The couple was part of a motorcycle ride traveling near Elburn in May 2009 when Bernard rear-ended a stopped car, pushing it into the path of the motorcycle riders. Several others were injured in the chain-reaction crash.
Bernard, who turns 28 next month, was scheduled to appear in court on July 2 to ask Judge Allen Anderson to reconsider her sentence.
However, Bernard has switched attorneys and last week her new attorney, Michelle Moore, filed a motion to vacate Bernard’s guilty plea, claiming prosecutors violated her due process and speedy trial rights.
Moore tied the violations to the decision by the Kane County state’s attorney’s office to re-indict Bernard in May 2011 after an Illinois Supreme Court decision allowed more breadth to how an aggravated DUI charge can be applied.
“The state’s delayed indictment of class 2 aggravated DUI charges, on the eve of trial, approximately two years after the crash at issue and one year after the initial indictment, constituted a ‘trial by ambush,’” Moore wrote in the motion.
Moore wrote that Bernard and her attorney were placed “in the untenable position of proceeding to trial on the new and additional charges, or being forced to seek a continuance to prepare for trial.”
Prosecutors have not filed a formal response. During a Thursday hearing, which Bernard did not attend, Anderson scheduled an Aug. 15 hearing on the plea withdrawal request.
Prosecutors were able to cite marijuana in Bernard’s system at the time of the crash in seeking the more serious charge and its penalties. Prosecutors acknowledged Bernard wasn’t impaired by the drug at the time of the crash.
Bernard, who testified she was reaching for a pair of sunglasses when she struck the stopped car, pleaded guilty in December and was sentenced in February. Judges admonish defendants in plea agreements that they have 30 days from the time of the plea to seek to withdraw it.
Moore said the move to vacate the plea is largely technical in nature, focusing on how prosecutors used the same evidence to add new charges a year after initially indicting Bernard. The law limits how much time can pass before new charges stemming from the same incident can be charged, Moore said.
The motion also claims Bernard’s first attorney, Bruce Brandwein, was ineffective for failing to file a dismissal motion on the charges in the re-indictment. Brandwein was unsuccessful last year in a motion to have the aggravated DUI statute, as used in Bernard’s case, declared unconstitutional by Anderson.
Moore added that this motion helps set up the case to be taken to the appellate court, if that becomes necessary.