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Driver in crime lab case avoids jail time

Erin Marino, the woman whose DWI conviction was

Erin Marino, the woman whose DWI conviction was overturned because of problems at the police crime lab but then reinstated on appeal, leaves the Nassau County Courthouse after victim impact statements in Mineola. (Jan. 9, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Hicksville woman who injured two people while driving drunk -- and tried to have her conviction tossed because of past crime lab evidence foul-ups -- avoided jail Tuesday when a Nassau judge sentenced her to 5 years' probation and time served.

Just before sentencing Erin Marino, 32, for aggravated vehicular assault, drunken driving, speeding, and reckless driving, Judge George Peck commented on her actions behind the wheel.

Peck said she hadn't been convicted on a higher charge because she had braked, slowing from 90 mph to 55 before slamming her BMW into a Dodge minivan stopped at a Glen Cove red light. "She did not consciously disregard the risk of rear-ending," Peck said.

Five days before the June 2009 crash, Marino had been discharged from an alcohol rehabilitation center. The case gained notoriety when Peck tossed Marino's conviction after her attorney pointed to past evidence testing errors at the now-shuttered police crime lab.

An appeals court overturned Peck's decision. Peck refused to remove himself from sentencing after prosecutor Maureen McCormick made a motion for him to do so. McCormick said a probation report recommended Marino receive time in an upstate prison.

Marino, who spent 20 days in jail after her arrest and 11 months in an alcohol treatment facility, Tuesday waived her right to appeal. Peck said, "Although I consider this a just sentence, it may not be a popular one."

Defense attorney Brian Griffin, of Garden City, said: "The sentence was both fair and just, given the entire circumstances of this case."

If Marino applies to have her license restored, she must install a device to prevent the ignition from starting if it detects alcohol. Marino, a sixth-grade teacher in the Connetquot school district, had no comment.

Before the sentencing, Peck -- repeating an unusual order from a prior court proceeding -- told her victims, Edita and Nicolas Bonilla, to sit alone in the empty jury box so they could see Marino at the defense table. "I want them to see the expression on the defendant's face . . . This is for their benefit."

McCormick had asked Peck to seat the Bonillas at a courtroom table and not to put them "on display." Afterward, McCormick said she was "outraged" and that "you normally don't see the judge put victims in the jury box." The Bonillas declined to comment.

Edita Bonilla fractured her spine and pelvis in the crash; her husband says his back still hurts.

Peck has noted Marino's many supporters from the Connetquot school district and Alcoholics Anonymous, who praised her character and wrote letters on her behalf. But he did not mention that members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a similar group had appeared in court on the Bonillas' behalf.

Last week, Peck refused to let someone read a statement for Edita Bonilla when she became too upset to speak.

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