Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chicago DUI lawyer on criminalizing accidents

I never thought I would start a post this way but, according to the dictionary an accident is "an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance."  That's it, and yet here we are today on the threshold of criminalizing accidents.

Last week Secretary of State Jesse White wrote a piece that appeared in the local paper:

Distracted driving I am writing in response to your May 6 editorial "Reckless on the Road," in which you outline the need for state's attorneys to aggressively pursue reckless homicide charges in certain serious traffic crashes. Let me first say we must seriously address distracted driving offenses, especially those that lead to grave injury or death. Whether the driver's conduct entails downloading ring-tones or painting one's fingernails, if the state's attorney believes the evidence warrants a charge of reckless homicide, then I would encourage him or her to pursue such a charge. I also support House Bill 73, which would establish negligent vehicular homicide, as this would give state's attorneys a middle ground between either charging the offender with a petty offense -- such as illegal lane usage -- or reckless homicide. 

The gap between a petty offense and reckless homicide is very large. Establishing a charge of negligent vehicular homicide bridges that yawning gap. The Distracted Driving Task Force recommended legislation proposing negligent vehicular homicide, which later became HB 73, for the same reason: the added flexibility it gives state's attorneys on a case-by-case basis. 

 While I believe his letter was written in response to the fatal accident involving a driver who was painting her nails, it could be applied to so many cases going forward, including Sister Marie Marot.

A circuit court jury handed down a not guilty verdict late Tuesday afternoon in the trial of an area nun accused of causing a 2007 fatal crash in Elgin.

Testimony in the trial, which began Monday in 16th Judicial Circuit Court, has offered conflicting versions of what happened in the Oct. 7 accident in which a van driven by Sister Marie Myriam Marot collided with a car at Randall Road and Route 72. Marot, 24, a member of Fraternite de Notre Dame order in Marengo, was charged with disobeying a traffic control signal .
The defendant ran the red light. That's the evidence you've heard from every single witness in this case," Assistant Kane County State's Attorney Jonathon McKey told the jury in his closing arguments today.
Defense attorney Donald Brewer countered in his closing arguments that "there is a presumption of innocence. The state just didn't do their job."
If convicted, Marot could face a maximum fine of $1,000, but that could have impact on the outcome of a pending civil lawsuit filed by the Forbes family, according to Brewer.

As a prosecutor for the City, I handled many cases where someone died.  They were all accidents. One of them involved an older man who thought his car was in reverse and instead it was in drive.  He crashed through the plate glass of a restaurant, and a young man inside died.  It was an accident.  

What will be the standard for negligent homicide?  If we can agree that an accident, at least as defined by Webster, includes carelessness, does that mean we should now charge all accidents with fatalities as negligent homicide? When the defendant is sympathetic, like a nun in her habit, will we let existing laws prevail so that she is charged with an illegal turn instead of negligent homicide? I suspect that the use of negligent homicide will subject the defendant to the whim of the prosecutor and/or public outcry. 
Is that the kind of justice system that you want?


Anonymous said...

Legislators make laws that due to the inability to foresee all interpretations are then subject to interpretation by lawyers and judges.

Legislators, lawyers and judges parse terms for a living.

You chose to use the word "accident" and cite ONE definition. If you instead choose the word "crash," you would allow that not all crashes are accidents.

If someone chooses to pay attention to her finger painting over paying attention to the road while powering the gas to a ton of metal, I can argue that that is beyond carelessness and ignorance, not an "accident" but a "crash" CAUSED by a chosen behavior with expected consequences even if there was no intent to kill.

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome but please do not leave personal information or specific legal questions in the comment field. If you need legal assistance, the best way to get in touch with me is to call my office at 312.944.3973

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome but please do not leave personal information or specific legal questions in the comment field. If you need legal assistance, the best way to get in touch with me is to call my office at 312.944.3973