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September 9, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Three years ago I asked the question here that was surely (surely!) on everyone’s lips, “Is being pretty and blonde a defense to an aggravated battery rap?”  Now we know the answer — it isn’t.  Read about it here (St. Augustine Record, 8/31/13).

Back then, Andrea Lee Zampatti had just been arrested in Florida and charged with 14 counts, mostly of aggravated battery, for a road rage incident in which she used her SUV to assault numerous people including two sheriff’s deputies who were vainly trying to get her to stop.  She also ran over and severely injured a man on a bicycle.  Of course there were a good number of witnesses in addition to those whom Zampatti attacked and injured, so her perpetration of the crimes was never in doubt. 

The only question has always been why she did it, and the fact is that Zampatti’s never come up with a remotely believable answer even though she’s put forward at least two.  Weirdly enough, her first claim was that the father of her child drugged her.

“I was drugged by the father of my child,” she said. “I think you are making a big mistake. He put something in my drink.

“I’m innocent.”

It’s a strange claim, to say the least.  After all, when someone behaves the way Zampatti did, operating her SUV in a crazy and dangerous manner, one of the first things the police do once they’ve arrested the driver is to test for alcohol and drugs.  They tested Zampatti and found nothing untoward in her system.  To this date, well over three years after the incident, no one has ever found any evidence to suggest that the the father of her child did any such thing.  And you can bet that, since it was her defense to 14 felonies, the defense did its best to locate something — anything — that could pin the rap on someone else.  It failed.

In 2010, as preliminary matters in her criminal case were still in their early stages, about all that was known was the heinous nature of Zampatti’s behavior.  She seriously injured several people and tried to hurt others.  Under normal circumstances, press coverage would have focused on that, but not in Zampatti’s case.  No, there reporters were smitten with her looks, so much so that the injuries to the victims were essentially ignored.  To this day, I don’t think anyone’s reported on their severity, much less done the type of “day in the life” story that we often read about the hardships of a person recovering from an injury.  Zampatti is a woman, white, blonde and pretty, and that was the story as far as the St. Augustine Record was concerned.

In May of this year, a trial was finally had on Zampatti’s spree, and the judge found her guilty on all counts.  Her defense was temporary insanity, based apparently on the “my boyfriend drugged me” claim that was well-known to be without evidentiary foundation.  On the other hand, she’s now claiming that she has mental problems apart from the drugging claim.

[Attorney John] Trevena argued for mitigating factors that would allow the judge to depart from the guidelines, saying Zampatti has a mental illness that requires treatment and that she is seeking such treatment.

However, [Judge Edward] Hedstrom pointed to the pre-sentence investigation that reported Zampatti stating her belief that she did not suffer from any serious mental illness.

So, as I understand it, Zampatti’s claiming now to be suffering from a mental illness that either was or wasn’t present three years ago and either did or didn’t contribute to her crimes.

Before her rampage, Zampatti ran her own business, and no one seemed to think she was mentally impaired.  A mental health professional evaluated her shortly after her arrest and found nothing amiss with her mental condition.  So it’s hard to know what Zampatti is claiming exactly, but whatever it is, she’s produced no evidence of mental problems sufficient to a finding of innocence or a reduction in her sentence.

Which is harsh.  Judge Hedstrom sentenced her to serve 33 years in prison, minus the 300 days she’s already served.  Apparently, the sentencing guidelines in effect in Florida mean the minimum he could sentence her to was 396.15 months, or, a little over 33 years.

Zampatti has no criminal history apart from this incident.  There’s no doubt that “this incident” was a doozey.  Fortunately, no one was killed, but they easily could have been and Zampatti’s never offered a sensible explanation for what she did.  Still, it was one event in an otherwise unstained criminal record.  So to me, Zampatti’s sentence is far too harsh as the judge as much as said.  But, as he did say, his hands were tied by the sentencing guidelines.

At sentencing, the judge concluded that there was no legal way he could depart from state sentencing guidelines without almost guaranteeing that it would be quickly overturned by a higher court. Zampatti’s official score sheet, a document prepared for anyone convicted of a criminal offense, gave her 556.2 points. 

By Hedstrom’s calculations, which were not contested, the lowest permissible prison sentence he could impose was 396.15 months — just more than 33 years. He could have imposed a life sentence.

“The court’s hands are literally tied,” Hedstrom said. “It doesn’t leave the court much option. I’m not pleased about that.”

And this doesn’t look like a case of an overly zealous prosecutor “charge stacking,” i.e. issuing charges that basically duplicate each other.  The fact is that Zampatti used her automobile which is a dangerous weapon to attack several people, two of whom were police officers.

Zampatti was found guilty of the following charges: aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon, aggravated attempt to elude with serious injury, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon, two counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon causing bodily harm, two counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest with violence.

So, I’m glad that Zampatti’s going to prison; she committed terrible wrongs and she richly deserves to spend a long time behind bars.  I’m glad the usual claim whenever a mother is charged with wrongdoing — “my husband/boyfriend made me do it” — availed her nothing.  And I’m glad her defense of mental impairment didn’t fly, given that there was never anything to back it up.  And I’m finally glad that being pretty and blonde wasn’t an out.

But 33 years?  That’s just another example of overly punitive sentencing guidelines going far too far.

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#Zampatti, #St.Augustine

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