Panel: Aurora woman can argue to withdraw plea in fatal crash
Citing a judge's "confused and incorrect understanding" of the law, an appellate court panel gave an Aurora woman who had marijuana in her system when she caused a 2009 crash that killed a St. Charles couple another chance to withdraw her guilty plea.
Alia Bernard, 30, of Aurora, pleaded guilty in 2011 to aggravated DUI in the deaths of Wade and Denise Thomas.
Bernard was sentenced to seven years in prison for the crash that killed the couple and injured 12 other motorcyclists in May 2009 near Route 47 and Smith Road near Elburn.
It is illegal in Illinois for motorists to drive with any amount of marijuana in their systems, and Bernard was charged a year later -- even though police said she was not impaired at the time.
Judge Allen Anderson, who is now retired, initially sentenced Bernard to seven years in prison in February 2012.
Bernard hired a new attorney, Michelle Moore, who filed a motion to withdraw her client's guilty plea, arguing a violation of her client's right to a speedy trial and "ineffective assistance" of Bernard's previous attorney.
Anderson denied Bernard a chance to withdraw her guilty plea but took a year off the prison sentence in August 2012.
Moore appealed that decision, and the appellate court vacated Anderson's decision and another hearing was set before a different judge, Karen Simpson.
Simpson, who also is now retired, denied Bernard's request in August 2013.
The appellate panel's Wednesday ruling sternly noted that when it sends a case back to trial court, the previous order -- in this case, the August 2012 ruling -- is null and void.
"We have no confidence in a decision that is so obviously based on a confused and incorrect understanding of the status of the case," the panel wrote in its ruling.
The ruling does not exonerate Bernard; it just gives her another chance to argue to a judge that her plea should be withdrawn.
A message left late Wednesday for Moore, who also handled Bernard's appeal, was not immediately returned.