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Court Rules in Vehicular Manslaughter Case


In New York City, a man was charged with four counts of manslaughter in the second degree, four counts of vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, two counts of DWI (driving while intoxicated), reckless endangerment in the second degree, driving with a suspended registration and various traffic infractions. A New York DWI Lawyer said that the charges arise out of a single-car collision that resulted in the death of three people, a pregnant woman and her son and the sister of the pregnant woman. Also at issue is whether the son, delivered by cesarean section after the death of the mother, was an additional fatality under the law. The defendant is alleged to have been driving while intoxicated and above the legal speed limit when he ran a red traffic signal and collided with the family crossing the intersection.

Records revealed that the defendant had the opportunity to examine the Grand Jury minutes and claims that the evidence before the Grand Jury is insufficient to support any of the charges of manslaughter in the second degree while conceding the sufficiency of the evidence regarding the charges of vehicular manslaughter involving the deaths of the three victims. The defendant claims, however, that none of the charges were sustained with regards to the son. He argues that he cannot be charged with the death of a child who was never legally alive.

A New York DWI Lawyer said that he also seeks a number of rulings to be disqualified prior to trial. He seeks to exclude the testimony of a lay witness who testified as to the speed at which his vehicle was traveling; the testimony of his alleged drinking prior to the collision; the prosecution from introducing evidence of the name and nature of the bar where he was said to have been drinking; and to exclude the testimony that two empty beer cans were recovered from his vehicle. He also seeks to disqualify the court from introducing evidence of his refusal to submit to a coordination test. In addition, he moves to suppress his statements allegedly made to a Police Captain.

For charges to be sustained, a Nassau County DWI Lawyer said that the court must find that the court have met the burden of establishing a legitimate presumption of criminal conduct. The sufficiency of the Grand Jury presentation is established by determining whether the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the court, if unexplained and un-contradicted, would warrant conviction by a jury. As long as the Grand Jury could rationally have drawn the guilty conclusion, the evidence is sufficient. Questions of credibility or weight of the proof are not to be considered by the reviewing court but remain the exclusive domain of the Grand Jury.

The defendant concedes that the Grand Jury heard sufficient evidence to indict him for vehicular manslaughter but contends that it was not presented with evidence sufficient to indict him for manslaughter in the second degree. The court agrees with the defendant’s first assessment but rejects his second.

In order to sustain charges for vehicular manslaughter, the court must show that the defendant, acting with felonious negligence, caused the death of another by operating a vehicle while intoxicated. A person acts with felonious negligence when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk and that failure constitutes a gross deviation from the standard. The identical act is elevated to reckless conduct when the person is aware of but consciously disregards the same substantial and unjustifiable risk. Moreover, the conscious disregard of such risk encompasses the risk created by a defendant’s voluntary intoxication.

The Grand Jury heard evidence that the defendant was voluntarily and excessively intoxicated, beer cans were recovered from his vehicle, he drove his vehicle significantly above the legal speed limit, and that he disregarded or disobeyed a red traffic signal before crashing without warning into an unsuspecting family crossing the street with the traffic signal. Such conduct on the defendant’s part can certainly be characterized as reckless within the meaning of Penal Law and would suffice to establish a legitimate presumption that he engaged in the blameworthy, risk-creating conduct associated with reckless manslaughter.

With regard to the counts of vehicular manslaughter and reckless manslaughter involving the son and his status as a person, the presentation before the Grand Jury met the legal standard for sufficiency. The Grand Jury, presented with opposing expert opinions, was entitled to reject the opinion of the Medical Examiner in favor of the opinions of the treating physicians and an expert in pediatric cardiology. They testified that a fetal heart beat was detected after the mother’s death and that the son was delivered by cesarean section, fully formed without a heartbeat. They further testified that the heart, although jump started by medication, was beating on its own for a period of time without artificial stimulation before the son was pronounced dead.

The Grand Jury thus heard sufficient evidence from which to conclude that the son was a person capable of being a victim of a homicide. The Penal Law defines a person who is the victim of a homicide as a human being who has been born and is alive.

The testimony of the son’s sustained heart beat and blood pressure was the defining feature in establishing his identity as a person. Upon separation from his deceased mother, his heart was jump started by outside intervention enabling him to become an independent person for a short period of time. Without any statutory specifications as to when or under what circumstances the heart can be revived or when it must commence beating, the son’s brief life as a person was clearly the product of a live birth.

The defendant’s motion to disqualify the lay witnesses from giving opinions about the speed of his vehicle is denied. Such evidence is competent and admissible as long as a proper foundation has been laid. The testimony regarding the defendant’s drinking at a topless bar will not be disqualified since it is relevant to establish both the defendant’s state of mind and the extent of his intoxication. The testimony that the bar was off limits to police officers will also be permitted as relevant to the defendant’s state of mind. However, the name of the bar and the nature of its entertainment shall be excluded as unnecessarily prejudicial.

The testimony that beer cans were found in the vehicle will be admitted because its discovery is relevant to the claim of the defendant’s intoxication and to the level of his culpability. The defendant may establish either by cross-examination or through his own testimony that these beer cans does not reflect that he had been drinking while driving.

The defendant’s motion in disqualifying the results of the Alco Sensor test is granted. As conceded by the court, the test is not deemed to be reliable evidence of intoxication. However, the motion to exclude the testimony of the defendant’s refusal to submit to a field sobriety test for coordination is denied. The Court analogized the refusal to perform field sobriety tests to the refusal to permit a chemical analysis test under Vehicle and Traffic Law. The Court stated that it was constitutionally insignificant that one was statutorily authorized while the other was not. The court reasoned that if evidence is constitutionally permissible, the absence of authorization in a statute does not make it impermissible.

Losing a loved one due to the negligence of others is a nightmare for anyone. At Stephen Bilkis and Associates, you can rely on the reliable group of lawyers to fight for your rights and make sure that the law is being implemented to its fullest extent.

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