High court upholds conviction of a man sentenced in connection with fatal Warren Co. crash

Valentine was sentenced to 20 years behind bars in connection with a fatal crash in Warren...
Valentine was sentenced to 20 years behind bars in connection with a fatal crash in Warren County.(MDOC)
Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 11:38 AM CDT
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WARREN COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - A man facing 20 years in prison in connection with a fatal 2016 car crash in Vicksburg will have to serve his time, the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled.

June 10, the high court affirmed the conviction of Curtis Lee Valentine, who was charged with aggravated driving under the influence after authorities say he crashed his car into a tree in Warren County, killing 29-year-old Katherine Martin.

Authorities say Valentine was driving under the influence and speeding at the time. He and another passenger in the vehicle sustained non-life-threatening injures.

In 2019, nearly three years after the incident, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison, with five years suspended, in Warren County Circuit Court.

The Warren County man had asked the high court to overturn the decision, saying the judge should have set aside the jury’s guilty verdict.

According to court records, Valentine claimed the trial court erred by denying his motion because the state had failed to prove that he was under the influence at the time of the accident.

Valentine argued that law enforcement officers at the scene of the wreck could not tell that he was under the influence.

Officers, though, obtained a warrant to take blood and determined that he had been under the influence of marijuana, Xanax and Topamax at the time. The sample was analyzed by the Mississippi State Crime Lab.

According to court documents, Xanax and Topamax are “central-nervous-system depressants that can affect judgment, motor function, and coordination. They can ‘also increase someone’s reaction time, meaning it takes longer for somebody to react to stimuli,’” Justice Dawn Beam wrote in the court’s decision.

Valentine also argued that the state wrong when it charged he was intoxicated simply because he was speeding.

Beam, though, said the state had other evidence, including the testimony from the state’s accident reconstructionist.

“Evidence showed that Valentine did not just exceed the 20-mile-per-hour posted speed limit, rather he was driving between 70 and 90 miles per hour in a reckless manner. Witnesses testified that the vehicle was ‘flying’ down Mosely Gap Road when it should have been slowing for the approaching curve,” Beam wrote. “The state’s accident reconstructionist testified that Valentine should have seen the curve in the road and did not slow or brake before the wreck.”

Valentine also said the lower court erred by refusing to allow his defense team to instruct the jury that the state had to provide that Valentine had not only consumed the drugs but that the drugs inhibited his ability to operate the vehicle with clarity and control.

Justices, however, ruled that the lower court did not err and that the instruction was a duplicate of one Valentine’s attorney had already submitted to the jury.

Beam was joined in her decision by Justices Michael Randolph, Josiah Coleman, James Maxwell, Robert Chamberlain, and Kenneth Griffis. Separate written opinions affirming the decision also were written by Justices Leslie King and David Ishee.

Justice James Kitchens dissented, saying testimony from the state’s expert witness was misleading when it came to the definition of “under the influence.” He also says that Valentine’s indictment was “grossly inadequate” in informing him of the charges he faced.

“Most notably, there is no allegation that Valentine had driven a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating drug. Valentine’s indictment informed him only that he had been accused of driving a motor vehicle in violations of Sections 63-11-30.... and that somehow he negligently caused an injury somewhere on the victim’s body.”

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