Judge reluctantly accepts Aspen woman’s multi-DUI deal
A Jekyll-and-Hyde local woman arrested for drunken driving twice in a week last summer while out on bond for a third DUI should have been carted away to prison Monday, a judge said.
“She has shown herself to be a menace to society,” District Judge Chris Seldin said. “That, to me, clearly warrants a Department of Corrections sentence.”
Leslee Francis, 56, however, was not sent to prison Monday and, instead, will spend the next four years on probation with the chance to wipe the felony DUI she pleaded guilty to last month from her permanent criminal record.
“I don’t have another relapse in me,” Francis told the judge. “I’m done. I’m probably too old. I want to live a beautiful, clear, present life. I’ve got great momentum and I’m not going back, sir.”
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Seldin said he had to think long and hard about whether to accept the plea deal Francis signed last month with the District Attorney’s Office. While it’s rare, judges do not have to accept plea deals, but the denial sends the case nearly back to square one in the criminal justice system.
Seldin has presided over Francis’ cases through her various arrests and her participation in Pitkin County’s Recovery Court — which deals mainly with addiction issues — since he was appointed to the bench four-and-a-half years ago, and said Monday that he liked her.
“I do know Ms. Francis, and Ms. Francis is a nice person,” Seldin said. “She was well-liked in Recovery Court.”
However, she also is “a vivid example” of a nice person on one hand and “an absolute menace to society when in the grips of addiction” on the other, he said. Seldin noted the “remarkable” details of Francis’ two DUI arrests last summer, when court records indicate she drove after taking sleeping pills.
First, on July 30, Francis nearly a hit another car head-on while driving down Highway 82 at approximately 20 mph under the speed limit with her headlights off in the dark near the Maroon Creek Bridge. Four days later, after posting bond and leaving jail, Francis backed into concrete barriers at a local gas station before driving away and being pulled over in a “stuperous state,” Seldin said.
And all that occurred, the judge said, while Francis was awaiting trial on yet another DUI, which occurred Mother’s Day 2018 on Main Street with her teenage son in the car.
“I find that to be wholly aggravated in the amount of disregard shown to the community and the inability to manage addiction,” Seldin said.
Still, Francis has never been to prison before, and Seldin said he likely would have given her a two-year-sentence absent the plea deal. But she’s already spent 191 days behind bars at the Pitkin County Jail in connection with the arrests, so the difference between that and the prison sentence, where she would been given those days of credit and earned the right to get out early with good behavior, was negligible, he said.
Francis, in a clear voice, also said she was clean and sober and participating in a continuing care program she was dedicated to and happy with.
“I feel like I’m starting a new life,” she said. “I’m a different person than I was before.”
In the end, Seldin said he decided to honor the agreement between the DA’s Office and Francis, though it came with a stern warning.
“You’ve already earned a sentence to the Department of Corrections in my opinion,” the judge said. “If (your case) comes back on a violation of probation, you have to consider yourself absolutely warned.”
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