Manslaughter plea vacated to avoid licensing bar

A former University of Maryland student who pled guilty last April to throwing a punch that resulted in the death of a fellow student, has been allowed the benefit of a nonconviction disposition that will likely result in the expungement of his record. According to a report in the Washington Post,

Prince George’s County Judge Albert W. Northrop ordered the manslaughter conviction of Arasp Biparva in the 2014 killing of Jack Godfrey vacated. The judge also granted Biparva probation before judgment, which means the charges can later be expunged from public records.

The modified sentence will help Biparva, 25, as he finds a job in accounting, according to his attorney.

“Currently the conviction will interfere with the application process and prevent Mr. Biparva from obtaining the certifications he needs to advance his career,” his attorney, Barry Helfand, said in a request for the modified sentence.

The defendant in the case had pleaded guilty to manslaughter for his actions during a drunken brawl outside a College Park bar, and the government had argued for a six-year prison term.  At the time, in arguing for no prison time, his lawyer pointed out that his client had no criminal record and was “genuinely remorseful for the incident.”   In sentencing the defendant to probation, the judge pointed out that the defendant was simply  reacting to the violence around him when he accidentally punched the victim.  He also said that he would be “open to revisiting the sentence at later date.”

After a second hearing in September, Northrop issued an order Oct. 11 in response to the request for a new sentence.

“There is no question but that this is a tragic and most unfortunate case,” the judge wrote. “Having reviewed once again the entire matter along with the numerous letters offered and the arguments of counsel, the court is satisfied that the balance of justice is on the side of the Defendant’s motion.”

The defendant was expelled from the University as a result of the incident, but later earned an accounting degree in New York.  He would be unable to obtain a license in many states as a result of the conviction on his record.  Designed to permit less serious offenders avoid such legal restrictions, as well as the lifetime stigma of a criminal record, Maryland’s “probation before judgment” disposition is similar to “deferred adjudication” dispositions in other states.

Both the government and the victim’s mother argued that such leniency was unwarranted in light of the seriousness of the injuries caused by the defendant’s actions, however accidental.

“Those injuries were caused by the punch that Mr. Biparva threw,” Erzen said. “We felt that because somebody actually lost their life, this was a conviction that needed to stay with Mr. Biparva for the rest of his life.”

Godfrey’s mother, who runs a special-needs nonprofit group in California called Capability Ranch, said she’s upset that the manslaughter charge will one day be erased from Biparva’s record as if the incident never happened. She also said the judge’s decision shows deep disparities and inconsistencies in the legal system.

“This sends a message to any young person that if you seriously injure somebody and they ultimately pass away . . . it doesn’t matter. You can get off,” she said.

“Now it’s like nothing happened,” Bridges said. “The guilty is gone.”