Jessica Binkerd, a 22-year-old woman who had pled guilty to killing a college student while driving drunk, was sentenced to three years in state prison by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Brian Hill Monday. The sentence was handed down after Judge Joseph Lodge’s earlier sentence was appealed by Binkerd’s attorney, Steve Balash, and eventually overturned by a Court of Appeals.

Binkerd was driving intoxicated on Highway 154 on Aug. 6, 2006, with 25-year-old college student Alex Baer as her passenger, when she veered into oncoming traffic and slammed into a car being driven by Sara Maynez, 20. Baer was declared dead at the scene. Binkerd’s blood alcohol level was more than 0.20, more than twice the legal limit.

Judge Brian Hill
Paul Wellman

After Binkerd pled guilty, Lodge showed little mercy in his sentence, calling the five years and four months he sentenced her to state prison “fairly tough.” His decision came despite pleas from Baer’s mother, Susan Barich, who had asked Lodge to show leniency to Binkerd, explaining that the woman responsible for her son’s death could educate people about the devastating dangers of driving drunk. But Lodge, who passed away last week, disagreed, saying research showed a tough jail term is more effective than prevention programs.

Judge Joseph Lodge
Paul Wellman (file)

Prosecutor Kimberly Smith urged Hill to sentence Binkerd to the maximum because she showed, in her actions during and subsequent to the collision, a “complete disregard for the damage she caused.” Balash tried to talk the judge into giving her probation because Binkerd had already served much of the sentence, and, while sparing her anymore time behind bars, would give the courts more say in making sure her behavior in the future was curtailed. The judge said that he didn’t believe this was a probation case, and that Balash would have to work out such a deal with Smith. “One person’s dead and another has been maimed emotionally for life,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t agree to that.”

. Binkerd, who already has 709 days of time served credit, faced a maximum sentence of five years. Hill gave her two years in state prison, plus one year consecutive for causing bodily injury to a second person. The collision injured Maynez’s knee, and killed her dog as well.

Hill said his sentence was to not only show Binkerd, but also the entire community to take drunk driving seriously. “It’s important that the state prison sentence be imposed,” Hill said. “Drunk driving is dangerous and is going to be punished harshly.”


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