TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – The former “Melrose Place” actress who snuffed out a life while driving drunk in 2010 received so light a sentence that it was “a hair’s breath away from illegal,” a New Jersey appeals court ruled Friday.
Recounting myriad improprieties from Amy Locane’s trial in Somerset County Superior Court, the 43-page opinion says that the judge ignored some of the more heinous details of the case and gave too much weight to the impact prison would have on the actress and her family, rather than how much suffering her victims had endured.
A retired actress best known for her brief stint on the “Melrose Place” soap opera, Locane rang in a blood alcohol concentration on the night of the crash of 0.23, nearly three times the legal limit in New Jersey.
Doing 53 mph in a 35 mph zone, Locane crashed into the car driven by Fred Seeman as he made a slow left-hand turn into his driveway. The crash killed Fred’s wife, Helene, who had been in the passenger seat and left Fred severely injured. The couple’s teenage son meanwhile had run out of the house at the time of impact and witnessed his mother’s death.
Earlier that night, according to the ruling, Locane had been drinking at a friend’s barbecue party. In addition to tailgating other drivers, the ruling notes that, immediately before the fatal collision, she had rear-ended another motorist and drove off, knocking over a mailbox and running a red light.
Though the actress was convicted of second-degree vehicular homicide and third-degree assault by auto in 2013, Judge Robert Reed opted to downgrade the minimum five-year sentence further and impose a term of just three years.
Locane – who starred in 11 episodes of “Melrose Place” as well as a number of supporting roles in movies – was released on parole in June 2015, having served 85 percent of her sentence.
Friday’s ruling marks the second time the New Jersey Appellate Division has criticized Locane’s sentence. Though court found in 2016 that Reed had overlooked the severity of the offense during sentencing, Reed used the same analysis and imposed the same terms of imprisonment on remand.
Reed focused at the time on how a greater prison term would “traumatize” Locane’s children, who were living with her ex-husband. He also emphasized that Locane had been sober since her conviction, saying that meant the sentence need not be extended for deterrent purposes.
But the Appellate Division found Friday that the concurrent three-year sentences Reed imposed “resulted in a free crime.”
Locane “went unpunished for the injuries inflicted upon Seeman, despite the fact she could have easily made alternative arrangements the night of the accident and could have easily avoided driving, was extremely intoxicated, and was engaging in risky maneuvers before the crash,” Judge Carmen Alvarez wrote for a three-judge panel.
Alvarez disagreed with many of the Reed’s conclusions during sentencing, including that Locane was no longer a drunken-driving threat.
Locane’s “substantial level of intoxication … means that there is a risk that she may relapse at some point in her life despite her best efforts,” Alvarez wrote.
Though she easily could have called a cab or asked a friend for a ride home after the party, “she made no arrangements to protect others from her state of inebriation,” Alvarez added.
Alvarez also noted that Locane had been granted a conditional discharge in municipal court in 2001 over marijuana possession, which had gone unmentioned during the original sentencing.
“This was not [Locane’s] first brush with the system,” Alvarez wrote. “Her sobriety alone, no matter how laudable, is not adequate support for those mitigating factors.”
Alvarez also called out the fact that Locane’s written statement at sentencing did not identify the fatal car crash as the worst moment of her life — this “should have been of concern to the trial judge,” Alvarez wrote.
As for Locane’s children, Alvarez said they may have been dependent on Locane during the 2013 sentencing but that is no longer the case. Locane’s youngest child suffers from Crohn’s disease but has since physically stabilized and is not dependent on the mother for basic nutrition.
Alvarez additionally criticized the judge for considering as a mitigating factor the point that Locane would likely pay the Seeman family $4.8 million in a related civil suit over the crash. Among other things, the ruling notes, this payment would likely come from insurance policies.
“[Locane] has always known that her sentence was subject to correction,” Alvarez wrote, noting that vacating the downgraded sentence does not constitute double jeopardy. “She had no reasonable expectation of finality in her sentence.”
Because two victims were involved in the crash, the ruling says two consecutive sentences should have been given.
“In this case, a third sentence hearing is legally necessary,” Alvarez wrote. “It is necessary for the public interest and the victims’ rights to be figured into the sentencing equation.”
Locane’s attorney Gilbert Miller at Wronko Loewen Benucci did not immediately return an email seeking comment.