On my last blog, I said that, “There are other cases, similar to this, which better demonstrate not only the attitude on the part of the Commonwealth when it comes to car accidents, but also it’s rather uneven view of such cases.” That blog, incidently, was posted on June 26th.
I had expected to continue it the next day, but I got swept up in a trial of my own on the subject. By the time I was ready to post, it was too close to the trial to do so. I did not want to risk being told I was jury-tampering.
But the motor vehicle homicide trial of my client is over now. After two years of hell, venturing through the criminal justice system, the jury found him Not Guilty. The matter now rests within the civil justice system…where, in my opinion, it belongs.
My client, a 20-year-old Townsend man (hereinafter, the “Client”), was charged with motor-vehicle homicide by negligent operation in a 2012 crash that killed a popular 57-year-old Concord-Carlisle school bus driver (hereinafter, the “Deceased”).
Still at the scene of the accident, the Client made statements that he had fallen asleep behind the wheel.
Most of the facts surrounding this tragedy were undisputed. There was no question about what caused the Deceased’s death. It was the car accident. The Deceased was walking his dog when the Client’s car, driven by the Client, struck and killed him. While this may be different in the civil proceeding which is on its way down the trenches, there was no issue of any blame on the part of the Deceased.
On the other hand, there was also no issue of drug or alcohol use on the part of the Client. It also appeared that, until seconds before the accident, the Client was not speeding, driving recklessly or anything that would signal the watchful eyes of any nearby law enforcement.
One of the press accounts, that of the Lowell Sun, which followed the trial, is referenced below. As is not atypical I have found, certain facts (not to mention my last name) were incorrectly reported for some reason. While the Client did tell law enforcement that he had fallen asleep, he never indicated any potential cause for doing so. While the Sun suggests that it was his work schedule, the Client never indicated as such. In fact, the testimony at trial was that the Client had worked a normal shift, although it was busy because of the new I-phone becoming available.
The testimony from everyone else who was at the scene was that the Client was crying, in shock and expressing a great deal of concern for the Deceased.
The Client further testified at trial that he had assumed he had fallen asleep simply because the crash brought him back to consciousness. Therefore, he reasoned that he must have lost consciousness.
A thorough police investigation, complete with accident reconstruction experts, was conducted. The police determined the crash did not involve drugs or alcohol, and there was no speeding nor texting while driving.
Based upon the Client’s statement at the scene, the accident was found to be a result of his having fallen asleep at the wheel. According to the Commonwealth’s expert witness, being asleep made the Client inattentive while driving.
And who could argue with that? It is hard to imagine that a driver would be attentive while his eyes are closed.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Statements And Falling Asleep At The Wheel
As we will be discussing in more detail, the law is a bit fuzzy when it comes to the charge which faced the Client in this case. Basically, the Commonwealth charged that it had been the negligent way in which the Client drove which caused the accident which resulted in the Deceased’s death.
“Well, Sam, doesn’t that go without saying? Isn’t it a given?”
Actually…no. While the prosecution disagreed, our reading of the law was that there had to be some negligent act in the situation. In other words, that the Client had not met the reasonable person standard while driving. This would indicate some sort of decision on the part of the Client to disregard the potential risk.
In this case, the prosecution’s case centered around the Client’s statement that he had fallen asleep.
“Isn’t falling asleep negligence in itself, Sam?”
As mentioned, I would say not. At least, not in the criminal sense (in that the accusation must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt). For example, let’s say someone with a history of heart disease is driving and he has a heart attack. As a result, he loses consciousness or is in some other way “inattentive”. Is he criminaly negligent?
“That’s totally different. He did not know he was going to have a heart attack. It was involuntary.”
Then, as I argued to the jury, if you are not ready to convict the heart patient, you cannot convict the Client. There was nothing in the evidence that demonstrated that there was any reason for the Client to know he was going to fall asleep. He was not nodding off and, although certainly more tired after a day at work than before it, he was no more tired than usual.
That heart patient, however, knew he had heart issues. Therefore, there was reason to believe that a heart attack was possible.
Personally, I would argue that neither example should be convicted…or even charged with a crime.
On my next blog, we will discuss how political this issue has become. Further, how the Commonwealth is not always so even-handed when it comes to such prosecutions.
The state of the law may surprise you!
In the meantime, you have yet another example of having your own words made in good faith to officers of the law be used to strangle you with a criminal conviction.
To read the original article upon which this blog was based, please go to http://www.lowellsun.com/news/ci_26081375/townsend-man-found-not-guilty-mv-homicide#ixzz36lyLLJqz