For the second time this year, a woman who killed a friend while driving under the influence will spend time in prison, and yet again, her sentence looks to have been exacerbated by incriminating pictures and wall posts on her MySpace account.
Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Clifford Anderson sentenced Lara Buys, a 22-year-old from Lincoln, Calif., to two years in prison this week on two charges – driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter of her best friend and passenger Jenny Robison-Smith.
Buys was driving southbound on Highway 101 with Robison-Smith and her two children when she lost control of her Ford Expedition and crashed. Robison-Smith’s children, a six-year-old and a six-month-old, were not seriously injured in the crash.
To showcase Buys’ alleged lack of remorse after the incident, the prosecution displayed pictures and comments taken from her MySpace page, depicting the defendant drinking in bars and having a good time.
The case closely resembles that of Jessica Binkerd, who was sentenced to five years in prison earlier this year for similar charges. Both women are the same age without prior convictions.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Darryl Perlin, prosecuting attorney for the more recent case, said the information he obtained from MySpace was what put Lara Buys in jail.
“It’s a combination of everything,” Perlin said. “It’s the pictures, the comments, and the witnesses who reported lack of concern. There was no question that this case went from a probation case to prison because of her conduct.”
Perlin said he doesn’t consider MySpace a bad idea for the general public. He said he believes the site is valuable for networking, but that there is a measure of courtesy that should be taken into account.
“It can come back to haunt you – especially if you have a serious criminal case pending and you use that as a place to announce to the world that you’re having a great time after you’ve just killed somebody,” Perlin said. “You shouldn’t do that when the victim’s family and friends wake up every day knowing that their loved one is gone.”
While the court’s decision may have been predicated by the outcome of the Binkerd case, Perlin insists that his casework was not influenced by the prior judgment.
“I had already started an investigation into Lara Buys before Jessica Binkerd was sentenced,” Perlin said. “It was an interesting coincidence though, same age with no prior record, drinking and driving, killing someone, and then while sentencing is pending, going on MySpace and posting pictures of themselves. These women are in prison because of really poor judgment, and MySpace is part of that.”
Meanwhile, an appeal process is underway for Jessica Binkerd, the first of the two cases. Binkerd has been in state prison since her five-year sentence began on Jan. 19. Her attorney, Steve Balash, said his first priority is to get her out of jail.
“I’m making a motion for release on bail tomorrow morning,” Balash said. “We had to work out some of the details; the appellate process takes about six months. The clerks have to prepare a complete record, but the first step is to get her out on bail.”
Balash said he maintains that Binkerd was unfairly sentenced and he is confident in the appeal. He said that if the appellate court can look past the pictures, Binkerd’s character will merit leniency.
“I don’t think any other judge would sentence the kid to jail,” Balash said. “It’s been really tough for me… I think the punishment should fit the crime, but she’s done everything right. She’s worked her way through college, worked at the rape crisis center, but [Judge Joseph Lodge] never saw past MySpace.”