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2nd Degree or Manslaughter?

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  • 2nd Degree or Manslaughter?

    A teen in my neighborhood, driving on a suspended license, left a party about 2am with 4 other teens. He turned down a residential street (my former street) and floored it just for fun. One block later, when the 2 lane street turned into a boulevard, he was going over 70mph and couldn't make the turn. He hit a half dozen trees before totaling the car. All the teens were thrown from the car, 3 died on the spot, and one was seriously injured. The driver was unhurt and ran from the scene. He turned himself in 6 hours later. Allegedly there was no drinking involved.

    So now the driver has been charged with Second Degree Murder. His attorney says it should be Manslaughter. Which is correct?

    I have NO sympathy for this kid, but I also hate the way our county prosecutor has a habit of overcharging to get a conviction. He has used this against police officers and it has worked. If this really fits the 2nd degree description then fine, but if it doesn't, he should be charged with what he really did, not given a higher charge that's dumbed down at the last minute just to coerce the jury into picking at least one or the other. No one is disputing the facts.

    [ 12-05-2001: Message edited by: ThaliaMoser ]

  • #2
    I don't know about Michigan, but in Kentucky that would be a textbook case of second degree manslaughter.

    507.040 Manslaughter in the second degree.
    (1) A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when he wantonly causes
    the death of another person, including, but not limited to, situations where the death
    results from the person's:
    (a) Operation of a motor vehicle; or
    (b) Leaving a child under the age of eight (8) years in a motor vehicle under
    circumstances which manifest an extreme indifference to human life and
    which create a grave risk of death to the child, thereby causing the death of the
    child.
    (2) Manslaughter in the second degree is a Class C felony.
    [ 12-05-2001: Message edited by: PatrickM98 ]

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    • #3
      Okay, is there a difference there between involutary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter? If this kid means the requirement for second degree, then I have no problem with the charge.

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      • #4
        Voluntary manslaughter usually refers to where your actions could and did lead to death but you didn't necessarily mean to kill the person or a murder done in the heat of passion. Example - you walk in on your wife and best friend going at it. You lose your cool and attack both of them. You end up killing one or both. That would be a heat of passion one.

        Involuntary is usually traffic related or such where you did something wrong but had not intent to hurt someone.

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        • #5
          If the facts are as you described, then it sounds like 2nd degree manslaughter. I bet that the prosecutor has elevated the charge in the hope that the boy pleads guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter thereby saving the state the cost of a trail.

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          • #6
            In Louisiana, that would fall under Vehiclular Homicide for the ones that were killed. For the injured person, he could be charges with Neglgent Vehicular Injury.
            Attitude is a reflection of leadership.

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            • #7
              Thalia,

              Second degree murder n.

              a non-premeditated killing, resulting from an assault in which death of the victim was a distinct possibility. Second degree murder is different from first degree murder, which is a premeditated, intentional killing or results from a vicious crime such as arson, rape or armed robbery. Exact distinctions on degree vary by state.


              manslaughter n.

              The unlawful killing of another person without premeditation or so-called "malice aforethought" (an evil intent prior to the killing). It is distinguished from murder (which brings greater penalties) by lack of any prior intention to kill anyone or create a deadly situation. There are two levels of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter includes killing in heat of passion or while committing a felony. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a death is caused by a violation of a non-felony, such as reckless driving (called "vehicular manslaughter"). Examples: Eddy Hothead gets into a drunken argument in a saloon with his acquaintance Bob Bonehead, and Hothead hits Bonehead over the head with a beer bottle, causing internal bleeding and death. Brent Burgle sneaks into a warehouse intent on theft and is surprised by a security man, whom Burgle knocks down a flight of stairs, killing him. Both are voluntary manslaughter. However, if either man had used a gun, a murder charge is most likely since he brought a deadly weapon to use in the crime. The immediate rage in finding a loved one in bed with another followed by a killing before the passion cools usually limits the charge to voluntary manslaughter and not murder, but prior attacks could convince a District Attorney and a jury that the killing was not totally spontaneous. Lenny Leadfoot drives 70 miles per hour on a twisting mountain road, goes off a cliff and his passenger is killed in the crash. Leadfoot can be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

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              • #8
                It is completely impossible to offer an intelligent opinion on this without the relevant statutes. Whether or not it fits either one depends entirely on the wording of the statute AND the facts of the case.

                "Overcharging" does not get you a conviction. It gets you an acquital. If the facts of the case present in your case in chief do not rise to meet the standards of the law applied, then the jury will return a verdict of "not guilty".

                I do not doubt that some prosecutors harbor political motivations, as well, they may also not be as competent as we would like.

                However, I don't think that this prosecutor's personal views are the only thing factoring in to the decision on what charge is appropriate. You can't mkae a staute fit just because you want it to. You can try, but the Grand Jury likely won't indict, and the Trial Jury is not likely to convict simply because the prosecutor wants them to. (I wish!)

                "murder" and "manslaughter" are terms of art and thier legal definations will vary from state to state. What does not amount to be murder in one place may very well be called murder in another.

                Generally speaking, you have two major factors in this case.

                1. He had a suspended DL and should not have been driving. While illegal, this is not prima facia evidence of criminal culpability.

                2. Did the manner in which he was driving contribute to the deaths of his passengers, and could we expect a reasonable person to know this?

                OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:

                Was he familiar with the road? Can we expect that he should of known about the dangerous turn?

                Did faulty equipment contribute to the crash in any way?

                Did road condtions contribute to either the crash, or the severity of the crash?

                Was alcohol or drugs involved? If so, what part did they play?

                ALSO...contributing to, and causing the accident is a seperate issue from causing the death of the passengers.

                while the driver may have caused the accident, and his excessive speed may have contributed to the seriousness of the accident, would the passengers lives have been saved if they had worn a seatbelt? Now, if they were front seat passengers, they are likely to be required by law to have been belted, and to some extent that is the responsibility of the driver to assure this, however, the passenger themselves has the primary responsibility for their own safety. They do not relinquish all responsibility for themselves once they get in someone else's car.

                If the passengers were minor's then this effect the responsibility of the driver, but this will vary from place to place to to variances in statute and case law.

                Additionally, what did the passengers know, what was their reasonable assumption and state of mind upon entering the vehicle. Anytime you enter a vehicle you are assuming the risk of getting into a car accident and possibly getting killed. This is especially true if you know the driver lacks experience, has a suspended license, is known to drive at dengerous speeds, etc. What was the level of assumed risk on the part of the passengers?

                Anyway...these are just a few issues that come to me off the top of my head. As I stated at top, without knowing the actual statutes with which he has been charged/indicted AND knowing the facts og the case, we really can't make a call as to our opinion on which charge is appropriate.
                -Sparky

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