Jury Acquits Young Driver of All Manslaughter by Motor Vehicle Charges
Before we dive into the details of this case, we felt it would be helpful to define for you the two charges our client faced in this case: Manslaughter by Motor Vehicle – Gross Negligence and Manslaughter by Motor Vehicle – Criminal Negligence.
Understanding Manslaughter by Vehicle
Manslaughter by Vehicle – Gross Negligence is defined in the Maryland Criminal Code, Section 2-209 as causing the death of another as a result of driving, operating, or controlling a vehicle in a grossly negligent manner. Courts in Maryland have defined gross negligence as a “reckless disregard for human life”. This of course requires a showing of the state of mind of the defendant. Courts in Maryland have ruled that only conduct that is of extraordinary or outrageous character will be sufficient to imply this state of mind. Simple negligence will not be sufficient – even reckless driving may not be enough.
If one is found guilty of manslaughter by vehicle – gross negligence (which is a felony) they are subject to up to 10 years in prison or a fine of $5000 or both.
Manslaughter By Vehicle – Criminal Negligence is defined in the Maryland Criminal Code, Section 2-210 as causing the death of another as the result of driving, operating, or controlling a vehicle in a criminally negligent manner. The statute defines “criminally negligent manner” with respect to the result or circumstance when:
(1) the person should be aware, but fails to perceive, that the person's conduct creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such a result will occur; and
(2) the failure to perceive constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that would be exercised by a reasonable person.
If one is found guilty of manslaughter by vehicle – criminal negligence (a misdemeanor) they are subject to up to 3 years in prison or a fine of $ 5,000 or both.
It is important to note that it is not a violation of this section for a person to cause the death of another as the result of the person's driving, operating, or controlling a vehicle or vessel in a negligent manner. In other words, mere negligence is not enough, the elements defined about must be proven by the State to convict a defendant of either of the above statutes.
What Took Place
In August 2020, a 20-year-old was driving home from a friend’s house in the early hours of the morning; the two friends had spent the evening fishing. While driving home, the young man traversed a winding, unforgiving tree-lined country road leading from his friend’s house to the highway without difficulty. He took the exit ramp from this country road onto the Interstate and continued his route home.
But after driving on the highway for approximately two miles, his eyelids closed, and his truck drifted out of his lane and onto the shoulder of the Interstate. Parked on the shoulder at that precise spot where he veered out of his lane, was a car with three children in the back seat; the driver of the parked car had pulled off of the Interstate and onto the shoulder to check on an infant seated in the rear of his car.
The vehicle operated by our client collided with the rear of the parked car, resulting in extensive damage to both vehicles. Exiting his vehicle, our young client immediately called 911, assisted as best he could and cooperated with the police who arrived on the scene. Tragically, this collision resulted in the death a 7-year-old boy who was seated in the back seat of the car that was struck.
A lengthy investigation of the accident was conducted by the Maryland State Police, and after consulting with the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office, our young client (even though this was an accident) was charged with Manslaughter by Vehicle – Gross Negligence and Manslaughter by Vehicle - Criminally Negligence.
Building a Proper Defense Wins Cases
The day after the accident, which was months before any crime was charged, the client and his parents reached out and obtained the help they were going to need to prove that this was an accident and that no gross or criminal negligence was involved. It was that very first day, even prior to the client being charged, that our team of attorneys began to work on this case.
Photos were taken of the scene while it was still fresh. An expert in accident reconstruction was retained to evaluate the collision, and a nationally renowned neurologist was engaged to evaluate the client's state of mind and sleep prior to the collision.
Due to Covid-19 delays, the client’s case was not tried until November 2022. The State asked the jury to convict our young client on a felony for falling asleep at the wheel… As the State claimed he knew he was too tired to drive. Then, the State told the jury that the client's behavior amounted to “gross negligence” and required conviction for the felony.
The Defense in this case, expertly cross-examined the Senior State Trooper who conducted the State’s investigation, exposing multiple errors in his reports and testimony…everything from listing an incorrect speed limit in his report, to submitting a diagram that showed the vehicles traveling in the wrong direction.
The Defense then countered the State’s case with its own evidence, proving that the client was able to drive more than four miles down a winding country road without any difficulties; he did not hit any of the trees, guardrails, fenceposts or mailboxes that lined this country road while driving on his way to the Interstate where the accident occurred. The defense showed the jury a PowerPoint of over 300 sequential images, walking them through the entire route the Defendant took on this country road on his way to the Interstate.
Defense counsel also called its sleep expert to the stand to testify about “falling asleep at the wheel” and “highway hypnosis." It was becoming clear as the trial progressed that it was the “thump…thump…thump” of the highway which lulled the client to sleep for a split second, resulting in this awful accident.
After four days of trial and jury deliberation, the jury rendered a unanimous decision that our young client was not guilty of gross negligence nor of criminal negligence, thus rendering verdicts of NOT GUILTY to all the client’s manslaughter charges.
While there is never a “happy ending” to a case where anyone, let alone a small child, loses their life, we were able to show that every accident is not a crime and that rendering our young client a manslaughter would have been unjust.
If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime, or if you think you may be charged in the future, the time is now to reach out to our firm for a free consultation. If necessary, we can start building your defense immediately. Schedule a consultation today.