Bail likely while Clifton Park woman appeals crash conviction
BALLSTON SPA Less than two weeks into her prison term on a manslaughter conviction, Traci Briskin appears poised to be released on bail.
The 39-year-old Clifton Park woman convicted of killing a father of five after plowing her sport utility vehicle through a stop sign while she was distracted and impaired last year was granted bail pending her appeal to the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Albany. Judge John Egan set bail for Briskin at $75,000 following oral arguments by prosecutors and her attorney Thursday.
Briskin, a former nurse at Conifer Park and mother of four, has served 10 days of her 71⁄2-year prison sentence and is being lodged at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Westchester County. She is expected to make bail sometime before the weekend and could remain free through the duration of her appeal.
The likelihood of Briskin’s release has outraged prosecutors and the family of her victim. Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III said he was stunned by the judge’s ruling, especially given some of the egregious details of the case that were presented during Briskin’s 10-day trial in October.
Briskin admitted she averted her eyes from Jockey Street for more than 30 seconds before colliding with a vehicle driven by 49-year-old Thomas Baker as he passed through the intersection with Route 67 in Charlton. Baker, who had the right-of-way, remained in the intensive care unit in Albany Medical Center hospital before succumbing to his injuries two days before Christmas last year.
“It certainly boggles the mind, and the family of the victim is outraged,” Murphy said of the judge’s decision to set bail. “When a jury convicts someone, you would think that would be enough.”
But Briskin’s lawyer argues it was Murphy’s office that erred in the case by charging her with manslaughter, a crime that didn’t match the details of her case. Defense attorney Kevin O’Brien said there is no indication his client deliberately or recklessly set out to injure Baker on the night of the crash, which he characterized as an accident.
“She would have had to have been aware of the risk she was creating ... and then consciously disregarded it,” he said. “That just doesn’t jibe with the proof [prosecutors] provided.”
At trial, an eyewitness testified Briskin was driving between 60 mph and 70 mph when she passed the stop sign. She later told investigators she was driving home from a friend’s house in Galway.
Briskin had a blood-alcohol content of 0.11 percent when a sample was taken two hours after the crash. The legal threshold for driving while intoxicated is 0.08 percent. She later testified she was reaching for body spray when her GPS fell to her feet, distracting her.
She was indicted on two counts of vehicular manslaughter, two counts of driving while intoxicated and one count of second-degree manslaughter, in addition to a violation charge of driving while ability impaired. At trial, however, jurors convicted her only of second-degree manslaughter and DWAI.
The conviction was enough for Judge Jerry Scarano to hand Briskin a lengthy prison term. She would have to serve 21⁄2 years before being eligible for parole.
Murphy said Briskin’s release seems odd, considering the amount of evidence against her that was produced at trial and that she was ultimately convicted of killing someone. He fears she could remain free for several years while her appeal wends through the court system.
“We don’t often see defendants released on appeal after they’ve started to serve their prison sentences,” he said. “It’s unusual.”
O’Brien believes his client was initially overcharged by Murphy’s office so she would be coaxed into a plea bargain early in the proceedings. He believes his chance of overturning the verdict is good and that Briskin should be able to remain free until the higher court decides on the case.
“I think she deserves to be out, and I hope she never goes back in,” he said.