Posted: Jun 4, 2013 4:55 PM by Erin Schattauer
Updated: Jun 4, 2013 4:55 PM
BOZEMAN - The attorney for a Manhattan man accused of driving drunk during a crash that killed his wife now says he'll aggressively defend the charge against his client.
Attorney Al Avignone told us today that his client, Michael Soule, plans to withdraw his no contest plea and plead not guilty to a charge of felony vehicular homicide while under the influence. This comes one day after Gallatin County District Court Judge Mike Salvagni refused to accept a plea agreement that called for Soule to receive a 10-year suspended sentence.
The judge gave Soule a week to decide if he wanted to withdraw the plea or maintain his plea of no contest, which could have gotten him a maximum of 30 years in prison. But Avignone says he doesn't need a week; he's planning to file the paperwork, withdrawing the no contest plea and entering a not guilty plea.
"Mr. Soule is in fact going to withdraw his no contest plea. He is going to request that a not guilty plea be entered and we're going to very aggressively defend the charges," Avignone said.
In January 2012, Soule, who owns Belgrade Liquor, and his wife, Jennifer, were driving home from a Gallatin County Tavern Association dinner when their pickup crashed on I-90. Jennifer died at the scene. Michael was charged with vehicular homicide while under the influence.
Charging documents state that Michael Soule had a blood alcohol concentration of .231 and tested positive for cocaine and THC. Court documents also state that Michael was driving that night. Both Michael and Jennifer were ejected from the vehicle.
These are some of the things that Avignone plans to challenge.
"There are no eyewitnesses to who was driving and there's no conclusive scientific evidence as to who was driving," he said.
As for the cocaine, Avignone says those tests often give a false positive.
"In this case, it was a false positive. There was never a confirmation test done," he said.
Avignone also said that there was not a significant amount of marijuana in Soule's system, adding that he had a medical marijuana card.
He is also disputing the blood alcohol concentration test, saying the proper procedures were not followed. He adds that a second test was done, showing Soule only had a .07 BAC.
When asked why Soule agreed to the no contest plea in the first place, Avignone said Soule had "three principal reasons."
"There were three principal reasons and there are three children, three young children, the oldest being only 10 years old. He loves his children very much and he wanted a sure shot that he would not go to prison," Avignone said.
Avignone is preparing to go to trial, a process he believes could take up to a year.
A call placed to special prosecutor Todd Whipple for this story was not returned by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
- File photo