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Opinion: Why Jon Jones' hit-and-run sentencing isn't a case of 'special treatment'

Jon Jones didn't receive a prison sentence after pleading guilty to hit-and-run in New Mexico, leading some fans to believe he got off lightly because of his personal fame. But is that really the case?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones pleaded guilty to hit-and-run in New Mexico, receiving a sentence of 18 months supervised probation, to go along with making 72 appearances for charity or youth outreach programs. The key part of that last sentence is no jail time, to which the judge said Jones got "real lucky."

Those who have long wanted to see Jones punished for his actions with some time in the hoosegow, as well as his DUI in 2012, weren't particularly pleased. Whether annoyed or full-on outraged, the wish of Jones to "learn his lesson" with a stint in jail was not granted, and the prevailing belief was that he got off lightly by being rich and famous.

But is that really the case?

I think the best way to address this issue is to examine some other state laws (including New Mexico), citing cases of hit-and-run collisions where no jail sentence was issued, to see if Jon Jones avoiding any sort of prison sentence -- this will surely change if he violates his probation -- is one of the perks of being a prominent figure.

Barbara Hanna - 3 years probation after fatal hit-and-run in New Mexico

State District Judge T. Glenn Ellington ordered Barbara Hanna, 48, who at the time of last year's crash was an employee of an upscale Canyon Road restaurant, to serve 200 hours of community service over the next three years.

In an agreement with prosecutors, Hanna pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the accident that caused the death of Lawrence Miera around midnight July 27, 2014. Hanna could have been incarcerated for six years, but Ellington suspended her sentence and ordered probation.

The judge also ordered Hanna to complete community service at two shelters for the homeless — the Interfaith Community Shelter and St. Elizabeth Shelter.

The article also notes that the homeless man who was killed by Hanna was wearing dark clothing and wasn't using the crosswalk when he was struck, but Hanna drove away from the scene because she panicked. Relatives of the deceased asked the judge to send Hanna to jail, but to no avail.

As pointed out in the article, Hanna could've received 6 years in prison for this third-degree felony.

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Zaid Naoom - 3 years probation for fatal hit-and-run in California

The driver, 23-year-old Zaid Naoom, did not stop immediately after the crash. Instead, he waited several days before contacting a lawyer, who then alerted police. Naoom pleaded guilty later to felony hit and run and was placed on probation Wednesday for three years.

Per the plea agreement, Judge Michael Groch told Naoom that his felony conviction could be reduced to a misdemeanor after three years if he successfully completed probation. The reduction could happen after two years, if Naoom completes his bachelor's degree.

The judge ordered Naoom to complete 15 days of public work service and to abstain from using any controlled substances, including marijuana. If he violates probation, he could be sent to jail for up to a year.

Several family members said Wednesday that they were not satisfied with the sentence, and that it pained them knowing the defendant would go home with his family rather than go to jail.

Naoom agreed to a plea bargain. California law says a felony hit-and-run involving death or serious injury could carry a prison sentence of up to 4 years.

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Mark Fleming - Two years probation after fatal hit-and-run in Nebraska

Mark Fleming was sentenced Wednesday afternoon after earlier No Contest.

Police say he hit Roy Yeck last January 30th near North 30th Street and Newport Avenue, then left the scene and went directly to a body shop to look into fixing the damage to his vehicle.

Yeck later died of his injuries. Fleming eventually turned himself in and later took a plea deal, reducing the charge to misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

In court on Wednesday, Fleming's attorney said his client did not remember hitting Roy Yeck and said he didn't realize what had happened until he turned on the news that day. He said, "Not a day goes by Fleming doesn't think of Mr. Yeck," and he wishes he could change places with him.

The victim's brother, Jim Yeck, said, "You hear those things but you don't know how much they really mean it. You really don't."

"It all boils down to someone being careless. I think he deserves to serve some time behind bars."

Here are Nebraska's laws on motor vehicle homicide.

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Yelena Pelts - 5 years probation after fatal hit-and-run in Missouri

A Chesterfield woman who pleaded guilty in June to leaving the scene of an accident has been sentenced to five years' probation.

According to police, 55-year-old Yelena Pelts thought she had hit an animal while driving on Olive Boulevard near River Valley Drive on February 12, but had in fact hit Roy Joseph, 41.

Joseph had been walking on the road when Pelts struck him. His body was later discovered by a woman on her way to work in the snow along the road.

In Missouri, fatal hit-and-runs are Class D felonies punishable by up to 7 years.

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Thomas Scheitler - 2 years probation for hit-and-run in South Dakota

A Sioux City man was placed on probation after pleading guilty to a hit-and-run accident that injured two girls.

Thomas Scheitler, 74, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Woodbury County District Court to a misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of a serious injury accident.

A two-year prison sentence was suspended and he was placed on two years probation. He also was fined $625.

Here are South Dakota laws on hit-and-run causing injury or death:

Class 6 felony: two years imprisonment in the state penitentiary or a fine of four thousand dollars, or both.
If the defendant is under the age of eighteen years at the time of the offense and found guilty of a Class A or B felony, the maximum sentence may be life imprisonment in the state penitentiary. In addition, a fine of fifty thousand dollars may be imposed.

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Julia Rastelli - 18 months probation for hit-and-run in addition to DUI near a school zone in Illinois

Julia Ann Rastelli, 51, of the 100 block of Southcote Road, Riverside, was sentenced July 27 to 18 months probation and 480 hours of community service, according to the state's attorney.

The charges were for failure to report an accident and aggravated DUI near a school zone.

According to a Suburban Life story from November, Riverside police said Rastelli had fled the scene after hitting a 10-year-old girl who was being assisted across the street by a crossing guard while returning home from Central School at 3:09 p.m. Nov. 20 at the intersection of Longcommon and Herrick roads.

Police said at the time that the girl's injuries were not serious.

Oh, and media reports also say she was talking on her cell phone at the time she struck the girl.

Failure to report an accident is a misdemeanor in Illinois, and aggravated DUI committed in a school zone while the restricted speed limit is in effect and involved in a crash that resulted in bodily harm is a Class 4 felony, which carries a possible prison sentence of 1-3 years.

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Tiffani Lowden - 3 years probation for hit-and-run in California

A Whittier woman was sentenced Wednesday to three years probation and 30 days working for Caltrans for a 2014 hit-and-run collision in South Pasadena that injured a couple, their 4-month-old baby and killed their dog.

Lowden didn't take a deal with the prosecution. Instead, she threw herself on the mercy of the court and pleaded no contest on July 1 to a felony count of hit-and-run driving resulting in injury to another person and to a misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended or a revoked license.

Police said the mother suffered a broken nose, cuts and facial contusions, the baby suffered a fractured skull, and the father ended up with cuts and bruises. The family's Boston terrier, Babell, died. On Dec. 22, police asked for the public's help in finding the driver. Lowden turned herself in the same day.

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And lastly...

Less than half convicted in Colorado hit-and-run cases get prison time (from 2013)

A Denver Post analysis of judicial records show that since January 2008, fewer than half of the people convicted of leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injury in Colorado — including auto-pedestrian accidents — are sentenced to prison.

In Denver, charges of leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injury filed since 2008 have been dismissed 60 percent of the time, The Post's review found. In the past four years, the number of hit-and-run cases involving pedestrians has nearly quadrupled.

Prosecutors say factors such as evidence, circumstances, criminal histories and remorse make each hit-and-run case unique and, in some instances, difficult to take to trial. Those factors, however, are more often used to piece together a plea agreement before the case goes to a trial.

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This is neither a defense of Jon Jones nor his behavior, it's a precedent-based justification of his sentencing. The common theme for nearly all of the various cases I've highlighted is the presence of an arranged plea deal.  There are cases I did find where prison terms were handed out, but they generally also included additional charges (e.g. involuntary manslaughter, obstructing a police officer, DWI, suspended license, etc.) and otherwise went to trial or a no-contest was entered. As you've already read, there are instances of  "regular" people who have literally killed pedestrians and weren't sentenced to any jail term whatsoever, so Jones receiving probation + community service for pleading guilty is absolutely not a case of famous person privilege.

If you're looking for something to be angry about, it's probably the court systems themselves.