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The Burden of Proof in the Karen Irby Matter: Why Stuart Irby Was Not Charged

Recently the Karen Irby matter was sadly concluded when she received an 18 year sentence for the death of two young doctors. Irby was charged with “depraved heart murder.” She plead to two counts of manslaughter. She struck the doctors’ vehicle while driving at excessive speed and apparently under the influence of alcohol. Her husband Stuart Irby was in the passenger seat when she hit and killed the doctors. According to news reports, the victims’ families did not understand why the Hinds County District Attorney only pursued criminal charges against Karen Irby and not against Stuart Irby.

The answer to this question is fairly simple. The District Attorney in this matter, Robert Shuler Smith of Jackson Mississippi, knew that it would be difficult to convict Stuart Irby. In order to convict someone of a criminal charge, the prosecutor faces a strict “burden of proof.” Keep in mind that the defendant does not have to prove anything, and in fact, because of the 5th Amendment, he or she does not even have to take the stand. The State, on the other hand, must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A crime cannot be proven if the judge or a jury has a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt. In other words, if the evidence or lack of evidence casts doubt on the prosecution’s case, then the verdict should be Not Guilty.  The District Attorney looked at all these factors and was convinced that he could not get a conviction against Stuart Irby.

The evidence, as I have gleaned from news reports, indicated strongly that Karen Irby was driving a vehicle at excessive speed and was drinking. This evidence was independently established through tests taken by the District Attorney‘s investigating team. The only evidence presented against Stuart Irby was testimony and statements by Karen Irby — there was no physical evidence to indicate that Stuart Irby was in any way  directly involved in causing the  death of the two individuals. Since Karen Irby would unfortunately be motivated to point the finger at someone else in this particular situation, her testimony against Stuart Irby might appear self-serving.  Whether that is true or not I am not commenting on, but the District Attorney in this case did not have sufficient evidence  to charge Stuart Irby with a crime.

This is a sad case for everyone involved. It amply demonstrates the evils and possible negative repercussions of drunk driving. If there ever was a case that MADD should parade in front of possible young drinkers, this is it. Here you have a successful young woman whose life was changed in 60 seconds because of drinking and driving. There is a Bob Dylan song that says “the next 60 seconds could be like an eternity” — this was unfortunately true for Karen Irby.

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