When the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court reviews an appeal filed last week by the operator of the limousine company involved in the fatal Schoharie crash to have his plea bargain reinstated, we hope the court will remember that our legal system is supposed to provide justice not just for the defendant, but for the victims.
Oct. 6 marked the four-year anniversary of the crash at the intersection of Route 30 and 30A in Schoharie that killed 20 people.
Prior to the crash, the limousine had failed several inspections and had been ordered off the road by the state.
Yet the operators of the company, Prestige Limousine, allowed the vehicle to stay on the road and accept passengers, despite the known safety issues, which included brakes that failed when the limo sped into the intersection.
Nauman Hussain, who operated Prestige Limousine, had hoped to avoid culpability in the crash by having his attorneys negotiate a plea deal that would have allowed him to do community service and walk away from the 20 deaths without serving a day in jail.
But in a surprise move at the time of sentencing in August, a state Supreme Court justice decided the plea deal did not give the victims justice. The judge instead offered Hussain the option of rejecting the deal and going to trial, or taking a prison sentence of 1-1/3 to 4 years.
Hussain rejected that offer. Now he’s appealing to have the original plea deal reinstated.
The prison sentence would not exactly result in justice for the victims and their families.
But community service for putting an unsafe limousine on the road and creating the situation that led to 20 deaths would have been a miscarriage of the very justice the system seeks to administer.
The recommended prison sentence might be the best the courts could do for the victims, given the prosecutor’s unwillingness to aggressively push forward with the case.
We hope the Appellate Court puts justice for the victims ahead of Mr. Hussain’s desire to escape culpability.
If the court rejects his appeal and allows the trial to go on as scheduled in May, Mr. Hussain will still get his day in court. And then whatever happens, at least he won’t be able to say he was denied an opportunity at justice.
If the trial results in a not-guilty verdict and no jail time, then the families of the victims will have no less justice than if Hussain’s original plea deal had been accepted.
And at least they’ll have the case heard in a court of law instead of in documents, reports, legislative bills and press conferences.
The Appellate Court needs to move quickly on rejecting this latest appeal, so that the case doesn’t drag on any longer and so justice for the victims can finally be within reach.