Idaho News

MADD asks Idaho Judicial Council to review case in which drunken driver killed woman, got probation

Adam Paulson
Adam Paulson

The national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving has written a letter to the Idaho Judicial Council, asking for a review of the Jan. 15 sentencing of Adam Paulson for vehicular manslaughter.

Paulson, 42, was convicted of the felony after a weeklong jury trial that ended Nov. 2, 2018. His blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit at the time he struck and killed 24-year-old Madeline “Maddie” Duskey as she walked across Eagle Road on Nov. 18, 2017.

Fourth District Court Judge Deborah Bail imposed a 15-year prison sentence on Paulson, with five years fixed, but suspended that sentence and placed him on supervised probation for 15 years. She also ordered him to spend 14 months in jail, but gave him credit for the 14 months he served in jail since his arrest.

“My impression, at this point, is that the penalty aspect of this case has been addressed to a large extent,” Bail said, according to a recording of the sentencing. She then spoke about Paulson’s responsibility to assume financial support of Duskey’s two children, and his own children.

The maximum penalties for felony vehicular manslaughter are 15 years in prison and/or a $15,00 fine. Prosecutors had asked for 15 years, including five before he was eligible for parole.

Miren Aburusa, lead victim services specialist for MADD’s Idaho office, said that national officials with the group were outraged when they heard about the Paulson sentencing. She provided a copy of the letter written by MADD National President Helen Witty.

In the letter, Witty told the judicial council that Paulson’s case “illustrates a failure in the Idaho judicial system.”

“The typical sentence for killing someone in an impaired driving crash is three to five years in prison,” she wrote. “Paulson’s extraordinary sentence is an injustice to the victim in the case and to the nearly 11,000 people a year killed by this violent, 100 percent preventable crime.”

She asked the council to review the facts of the case and statewide information on sentences involving impaired driving deaths, and also to “take appropriate action to ensure that Idaho judges are educated about impaired driving statues and held accountable for protecting and enforcing the law.”

The seven-member council, which investigates complaints against judges, is made up of three members of the public, two attorneys, a district judge and the chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court.

If a complaint is found to be outside the council’s jurisdiction, it will be dismissed.

“The council does not have the authority to act as a court of review, determining the legal or factual validity of any judge’s decision,” according to the frequently-asked-questions section of the council’s website. “This must be pursued through the legal process.”

The council makes recommendations to the Idaho Supreme Court, which has the authority to censure, suspend or remove a judge for misconduct. Bail was appointed as a district judge in 1983 — Idaho’s first female district judge. District judges serve four-year terms, and she was re-elected in November 2018.

That Paulson walked away without any prison time felt like “the biggest slap in the face” to the victim’s parents, they told KTVB Channel 7.

“I was fixed to feeling like him going to prison for a little while would be good for his soul, good for him to reflect upon what he did,” Duskey’s mother, Crystal Markham-Brown, told KTVB. “And not just what he did but what he did prior to even taking Maddie’s life. I don’t feel angry at Adam, I don’t feel angry. I feel like I’m concerned about the community, I’m concerned about the bigger picture.”

At the time of the fatal crash, Paulson was on probation for a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. Paulson’s attorneys filed a motion for acquittal after a jury found him guilty, arguing that no driver, even a sober one, could have avoided killing Duskey that night.

Aburusa said she was completely unprepared for the sentence handed down by Bail.

“I was shocked,” she told the Statesman. “I have always had great confidence in her sentencing. I’ve always felt that it was fair. I was completely caught off guard.”

Aburusa said it was disappointing for many reasons, including the fact that Idaho has taken a tougher stance against drunken driving by requiring ignition interlock devices for drivers convicted of DUI for the first time. That went into effect Jan. 1.

“We’ve made so much progress,” Aburusa said. “This judge put us 20 feet back by doing this.

The terms of Paulson’s probation are lengthy. They say he must: pay child support for Duskey’s two children; wear an alcohol monitor until further notice of court; reside in a sober living facility; not purchase, possess or consume alcohol; perform 500 hours of community service; not drive a vehicle “for any reason whatsoever” (his license is suspended); attend 90 days of daily AA meetings and provide proof to probation officer; submit to searches of his person, property and residence; maintain full employment; and complete training/counseling programs required by the probation officer. His probation officer and the court have the authority to impose up to 180 days in jail.

Bail said she was also going to keep close tabs on Paulson’s progress, and she scheduled his first review hearing for Wednesday, Feb. 13. The judge declined to talk about the Paulson case because it’s ongoing, but did say that she regularly does follow-up reviews on serious cases.

About 10 Duskey family members and friends, along with a few MADD volunteers, were at Paulson’s review hearing Wednesday.

Bail started off the hearing by saying that “the easiest thing in the world for a judge to do is to send someone to prison,” adding that it’s not always the wisest.

She said that by meeting the obligations of his probation, Paulson would be showing responsibility for his actions. She asked him whether he’s going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings daily, as she ordered.

Paulson confirmed that he’s been going to AA meetings and that he’s found a home group and a sponsor who has been sober for 36 years, someone he described as a prominent person in the community. He said he’s currently on step 4 of AA’s 12-step program.

The judge asked whether he’s found a job, and he said he’s interviewed multiple times and has three dozen active applications out. He said the publicity surrounding the case has made him a risk that employers aren’t willing to take.

“There are employers who will hire people in your situation,” Bail told Paulson, who also confirmed he’s residing in a sober-living facility. He’s done community service, his attorney said.

Paulson’s alcohol ankle monitor is costing about $285 a month, and his attorney asked the judge about moving to a less expensive monitoring method, but Bail said that’s a burden he’ll have to bear for now.

“It’s really critical that alcohol never be involved in your life again,” the judge told him.

Paulson’s next review hearing is set for March 11 at 4 p.m.

Katy Moeller has worked at The Idaho Statesman for 13 years. She’s a generalist, an investigative reporter and a feature writer who has been on the breaking news team for a decade. She was Idaho Press Club’s 2016 Print Reporter of the Year.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.