Nine months in jail plus another eighteen months in the state’s Therapeutic Court program. That’s the sentence for Thomas Tyler Emerson, a Juneau man arrested for violating his probation following an earlier conviction for causing the accident that killed his friend Taylor White.
The 21-year old Emerson was pulled over on North Douglas highway in June after speeding with two people in his vehicle. He wasn’t legally intoxicated, but he had been drinking and he had alcohol in his vehicle. That was a probation violation.
During a disposition hearing on Wednesday, neither defense nor prosecution made any arguments. Instead, they announced that they had already reached agreement on a sentence.
District Attorney Dave Brower said during opening comments that there is a lot of support for Emerson.
“I think, initially, the sentence that he got was extremely lenient,” said Brower. “He may’ve drank more than the one time. The violation is pretty serious.”
Emerson’s attorney Jeffrey Sauer paraphrased a letter that his client wrote to the court outlining some of the factors related to the violation.
“Pressure from old friends and using peers, failure to grasp the reality of his situation, overwhelmingly sense of guilt that has haunted him since 2009, and that alcohol seemed to have given him a temporary from these issues,” said Sauer.
“He wasn’t able to resist peer pressure and wasn’t self-assured enough to do what he needs to do.”
Emerson has been at Lemon Creek Correctional Center for the last two months after spending the summer in the third-party custody of his father while he was commercial fishing.
Emerson, who had previously declined comment, stood up in court –- handcuffed and dressed in yellow prison clothing — and accepted responsibility as about a dozen friends and family members listened in the gallery.
“I’d just like to say I’m sorry. I showed another horrible lapse of judgment. Put the safety of others in danger,” said Emerson.
“I’d just like to offer an apology to those affected, this court, and the community in general.”
Emerson said he’ll be able to address the issues that manifested in the violation, move forward, and put everything behind him after going through Therapeutic Court.
Of the suspended prison sentence from the earlier conviction, nine-months was imposed. He has roughly seven months left with credit for time already served. Then, he’ll be enrolled in the relatively-new eighteen-month Therapeutic Court program that usually takes in repeated drunk drivers and other drug offenders. It’s a diversion program that includes anti-alcohol treatment, daily drug testing, counseling, and constant monitoring by the court to stay on track to rehabilitation. Those who stick with the program are less likely to offend again and it’s more cost-effective than simply incarcerating offenders.
Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg felt that Emerson would be an asset to Therapeutic Court as well as get something something out of the program.
“Certainly what happened here sends a powerful message about the consequences of drinking and driving,” said Pallenberg.
Emerson will also be on probation for five years. He will also be required to have an ignition interlock device installed on his vehicle while on probation.
Taylor White was a passenger in Emerson’s vehicle during an accident in 2009 at 37-mile Glacier Highway that also involved alcohol.
We have links below to previous stories about Therapeutic Court including an in-depth profile of the program and how it may be effective.
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